Recently, a serious crash in the 6500 block of Padre Drive, in south San Antonio, claimed the life of a 15-year old girl and caused significant property damage to a home and yard. A Ford Fusion lost control after hitting a curb, crashing through a wooden fence, hitting a tree and bringing branches down on the home. The remarkable fact about this accident is that police identified the driver of the Fusion as a 14-year old girl, who is now facing charges of intoxication manslaughter. This episode raises questions about Texas’ parental liability statutes, as many people do not have any idea that they might be held liable for damage that their children cause.
Property Damage Only
Texas, like most other states, does have a parental liability statute which states that parents can be held liable for the conduct of their children. However, the important thing to keep in mind about Texas’ particular law is that it only applies to property damage. If your child causes property damage, you as a parent can be held liable for that damage if one of two conditions applies. The first is if your child between the ages of 10 and 18 can be shown to have acted willfully or maliciously. The second is if your child’s conduct can be “reasonably attributed” to your negligent parenting. The owners of the home whose fence and tree were damaged in the Padre Drive accident could plausibly sue the young driver’s parents under this statute over the damage to their home.
The language used in both conditions is important. The key words are “willfully or maliciously” - meaning that if your child accidentally causes property damage, you will not be held liable - and “reasonably attributed.” The concept of ‘reasonableness’ is a difficult one to establish in law because it is so subjective, but in general, if a reasonable person would attribute your child’s conduct to your failure to parent them properly, then it is a good sign that you may be held liable for the damage caused....