Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Handling Personal Injury Claims in the Seattle Area and Throughout Washington Since 1995

My name is Chris Thayer and I am a personal injury attorney practicing in downtown Seattle. I handle personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death claims throughout the greater Seattle area, including Issaquah, Mercer Island and Kirkland.

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Negligent Children and Negligent Supervision of Children

Posted Friday, January 19, 2018 by Chris Thayer

The law of negligence is fairly straightforward when the parties involved are adults. But what happens if the wrongdoer is a child? Most states, including Washington, hold parents responsible for certain acts committed by their minor children.

However, while Washington law says that parents can be found liable for failing to supervise their children, it is not that simple when the injured party is the parent’s own child.

Washington’s Parental Responsibility Law

Parents can be on the hook for harm caused by minor children under Washington’s parental responsibility law. The statute states that parents are liable if their child willfully or maliciously destroys property or inflicts personal injury. (The law also caps compensation for property damages at $5,000.) The statute does not create parental liability if a child acts carelessly or negligently and that negligence results in injury.

However, the statute also makes clear that parental liability may still exist under common law negligence.

What is Common Law Negligence?

Common law negligence is non-statutory law that develops through court decisions. For example, Washington courts have found parents negligent if they:

There are many different scenarios in which parents might be found negligent under this standard. For example, if a teen driver has received numerous citations for distracted driving and then causes an accident, injured parties may sue the parents for allowing the distracted driving to continue.

Is Negligent Parental Supervision a Viable Claim?

However, Washington case law establishes that negligent parental supervision is generally not a viable claim – at least when the child is the injured party. The Washington Supreme Court recently considered this issue in deciding whether a father could be assigned fault under the state’s contributory negligence laws for failing to supervise his child.

A 2-year-old boy was playing in his father’s driveway when Jeanne Paul, his father’s then-girlfriend, ran over him. The child sustained serious injuries and a personal injury lawsuit was brought against Paul on the boy’s behalf. Paul argued that the father was also responsible for not supervising his child properly. The jury determined that both Paul and the father were responsible and attributed 50% of the damages to each of them. However, the court determined that judgment could not be entered against the father because of the parental immunity doctrine, and the court only entered judgment for Paul’s 50% share of the damages.

The Washington Supreme Court held that there is no tort liability against parents based on negligent supervision. In other words, “it is not a tort to be a bad, or even neglectful, parent.” Thus, Paul was liable for all of the boy’s damages.

This is a tricky area of law. If your were injured by a negligent child or if your child was injured by a negligent actor, an experienced personal injury attorney can help.

Contact Us Today

Contact one of our personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation if you were injured by the negligent actions of a child. The child’s parents might be responsible for your damages. We can also help if your child was injured by someone else’s negligent behavior. Our experienced attorneys will help determine whether you have a viable claim and help recover the compensation that you deserve.