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Parental Criminal Liability for the Actions of Minors

Parenting brings with it certain responsibilities, including nurturing and protection. But when minor children cause damage, their actions can have legal repercussions for the parents.

In Ohio, aggrieved property owners can bring civil action against parents to hold them responsible for the actions of their minor children (under the age of 18). There are also much rarer instances in which the actions of a child can lead to criminal action against the parents.

If minor children willfully damage or steal property, for instance, their parents can be required to pay damages of up to $10,000 plus court costs, or if agreed to by all parties, to perform community service in lieu of such payment.

If parents “negligently entrust” the family vehicle to a minor child who is not fit to operate it – or if the parent who signed the child’s drivers license application then fails to provide state-mandated auto insurance – parents could be liable for damages or injuries caused by the operation of the vehicle by the minor child.

The liability for a minor child who is acting as the parent’s agent – for instance, running an errand for the parents’ business – is the same as that for anyone else acting as an agent for another person. Civil liability might exist in either case.

Criminal liability can arise from minor children performing illegal activities in the family home. Parents can be held responsible if they know, or should have reasonably known, that the illegal activity was taking place. The consequences for knowingly permitting the illegal behavior can be criminal charges against the parents or, in extreme cases such as children selling drugs under the parental roof, the criminal forfeiture of the home in addition to other charges.

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