Parental Liability

A Guide for North Carolina & South Carolina Parents

Emily J. Meister

As the mother of two young children, I would like to think that my kids will always follow the rules, obey the law, and make good decisions.  The realist in me knows, however, that they won’t always act as they should or as they’ve been taught.  So what is my liability or legal exposure for the conduct of my children?  Can I be held financially responsible for their wrongdoing?

Generally speaking, parents are not required to act as insurers against wrongs, harms, or damages inflicted by their children.  This maxim, however, is not without exceptions or limitations, including:

  1. North Carolina Gen. Stat. §1-538.1 limits or caps the monetary liability of a parent for the intentional or willful injury of a person or property by a minor to $2,000.00.
  2. South Carolina Code Ann. §63-5-60 places a $5,000.00 limit or cap upon the monetary liability of a parent for the malicious or willful personal injury, theft, or destruction of property caused by a minor.
  3. Parents or guardians signing their children’s application for a driver’s license agree, pursuant to South Carolina Code Ann §56-1-110, be jointly and severally (in other words, equally) liable or responsible for the motor vehicle negligence of the minor unless there is insurance coverage in place.
  4. Parents will be financially liable or responsible when or where they (a) had the ability and opportunity to control the minor and (b) knew or should have known of the need to exercise such control, but failed to do so.
  5. Parents will be financially liable or responsible when or where the parents act in concert with the minor child.  (For example, if I encourage my son to throw an egg at a passing Gamecock fan, I should expect to be held civilly responsible for any injuries he may inflict.)

My hope – as both a mother and as a litigation attorney – is that my kids will behave as little angels and grow without incident into responsible adults.  But until that day, I keep these limitations in the back of my mind!

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