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Parents Should Treat Halloween's Tricks With Genuine Concern

Van O'Steen

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Most Halloween pranks are harmless enough. The worst thing I have seen in my neighborhood is tissue paper draped over trees.  Some children, however, carry the trick-or-treat tradition too far. Occasionally, a child will damage someone's property.

Parents would be wise to control their children's creativity. Although no harm may be intended, pranks can get out of hand, and parents may end up being the real victims.

Arizona law makes parents and legal guardians who have custody or control of minors automatically liable for the malicious acts of their children up to $10,000 for each act.  A minor is anyone younger than 18.

This automatic liability exists even for parents who could not have expected or prevented the malicious conduct.

Under the former law, the victim of a child's destructive behavior was required to prove that the parents knew of their child's inclination for malicious acts and that they failed to take reasonable measures to prevent it. This generally remains the standard for holding parents liable for damages exceeding $10,000.

In other words, parents are automatically liable for damages caused by their children up to $10,000.  Beyond that amount, the victim must show that the parents were somehow careless in their supervision of the offending child.

The availability of insurance protection for these losses can be complex. Most homeowner's insurance policies exclude coverage for intentional or malicious acts regardless of the amount of damage. However, most policies do cover the parents where the claim is based on inadequate supervision of their children (the parents themselves were careless).

If you have knowledge of your child's destructive behavior, you would be wise to do everything you reasonably can to prevent future incidents, especially personal injury to others.

I do not wish to make a mountain from a molehill. Most children do not use Halloween as an excuse for malicious behavior. This holiday, however, seems an appropriate time to remind parents of their responsibility, which extends 365 days a year. The law can be a little harsh on those of you who forget.
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