Posted on August 25, 2022

Can A Parent Be Sued For Their Child’s Actions In Illinois?

Kids do dumb stuff. Sometimes the consequences of a child’s poor decision are so bad that a parent becomes liable for their child’s actions in Illinois. Illinois law acknowledges that parents have a responsibility to supervise their children.

The Illinois Parental Responsibility Act

The Illinois Parental Responsibility Act governs a parent’s financial obligation to victims of a child’s bad behavior.

“[T]he…purpose of the Illinois Parental Responsibility Act is two-fold: (1) to compensate innocent victims of juvenile misconduct that is willful or malicious; and (2) to place upon the parents the obligation to control a minor child so as to prevent intentional harm to others” Vanthournout v. Burge, 387 NE 2d 341 – Ill: Appellate Court, 2nd Dist. 1979

Illinois law only requires parents to be responsible for the actions of their children which the children did on purpose.

“The parent or legal guardian of an unemancipated minor who resides with such parent or legal guardian is liable for actual damages for the wilful or malicious acts of such minor which cause injury to a person or property” 740 ILCS 115/3

Illinois law, however, limits parental responsibility for a child’s actions up to a certain level of damages.

“No recovery under this Act may exceed $20,000 actual damages for each person…for the first act or occurrence of such wilful or malicious acts by the minor causing injury, and $30,000 if a pattern or practice of wilful or malicious acts by a minor exists for a separate act or occurrence, in addition to taxable court costs and attorney’s fees” 740 ILCS 115/5

A child’s actions will only result in a $ 20,000 obligation from the parent per victim. If the child’s actions were part of a pattern (which means the parent must have known about the child’s behavior) then the parent’s obligation increases to $ 30,000.

The victim will also be compensated for any attorney’s fees expended while trying to recover damages from the actions of a child.

A Parent’s Responsibility For A Child’s Theft In Illinois

If a child commits retail theft, the parents are responsible to the store for the value of the item (up to the limits laid out in the Parental Responsibility Act).

“A person commits retail theft when he or she knowingly: Takes possession of, carries away, transfers or causes to be carried away or transferred any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale in a retail mercantile establishment with the intention of retaining such merchandise or with the intention of depriving the merchant permanently of the possession, use or benefit of such merchandise without paying the full retail value of such merchandise” 720 ILCS 5/16-25

“If a minor commits the offense of retail theft, the parents or guardian of the minor shall be civilly…Total recovery under this Section shall not exceed the maximum recovery permitted under Section 5 of the Parental Responsibility Law” 720 ILCS 5/16-27

You cannot just return the item and call it even with the store. The stores want money not the items they already have.

A Parent’s Responsibility For A Child’s Accident In Illinois

The Illinois Parental Responsibility Act only makes parents responsible for their children’s acts if they are “wilfull or malicious.” Most kids are not bad…but they make dumb mistakes which result in accidents.

An Illinois parent is not automatically liable for a child’s negligent actions.

“Illinois does not have a vicarious liability statute.” Zedella v. Gibson, 650 NE 2d 1000 – Ill: Supreme Court 1995 (citations omitted)

An Illinois parent may be responsible for their child’s negligent actions…if the parent had a part in setting up the accident. Specifically, if the parent gave the an item the child used and accidentally hurt someone with. This creates the common law tort of negligent entrustment against the parents.

An action for negligent entrustment “`consists of entrusting a dangerous article to another whom the lender knows, or should know, is likely to use it in a manner involving an unreasonable risk of harm to others.'” (Teter v. Clemens (1986), 112 Ill.2d 252, 257, 97 Ill.Dec. 467, 492 N.E.2d 1340

“[I]n order to state a cause of action for the tort two elements must appear: (1) a negligent entrustment, and (2) the recklessness or inexperience of the party who received control of the entrusted instrument was the proximate cause of the injury.” Allstate Insurance Co. v. Panzica, 162 Ill. App. 3d 589, 590 (Ill. App. Ct. 1987)

Giving a gun to a child is clearly negligent entrustment. Giving an automobile to a child might be negligent entrustment.

“An automobile is not a dangerous article per se but may become one if it is operated by a person who is unskilled in its use. Thus, a person may be liable for negligently entrusting an automobile to one who the person knows or should know is incompetent, inexperienced, or reckless.” Zedella v. Gibson, 650 NE 2d 1000 – Ill: Supreme Court 1995 (citations omitted)

If a child has a driver’s license, the state of Illinois has already certified the child as someone who is competent, experienced and not reckless behind the wheel of an automobile. Therefore, it is not likely that an Illinois court will find that a parent reckless entrusted their child with a car if that child had a driver’s license.

What If The Parents Are Liable For Their Child’s Actions But The Parents Are Divorced?

There is not clear law on who would be responsible for the damages related to a child’s actions if the child’s parents are divorced.

The parents won’t be deciding who is liable…the victims will. The victims will be suing either one or both parents.

Under the Illinois Parental Responsibility Act, ““The parent is liable for actual damages for the wilful or malicious acts of such minor which cause injury to a person or property” 740 ILCS 115/3 (emphasis mine)

If there is a finding that actual damages happened due to a child’s willful or malicious act, a parent is liable. The victim can choose which parent (or both).

The parents can then attempt to resolve the responsibility for the obligation in a domestic relations court (although I’m not sure under what authority).

Conversely, the parent who negligently entrusted a child with a dangerous object will be the parent who the victim sues.

Raising a child is hard. Raising a child who hurts others…well, that is really hard. If you need to discuss your responsibilities for your child’s actions, contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm to learn more about who is responsible for a child’s actions in Illinois.

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Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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