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Attorney Van O'Steen

Law Limits Liability for Pranks by Youth

Van O'Steen

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With Halloween approaching, this may be a good time to advise parents about their legal responsibility for their children's intentional acts that harm others. Most Halloween pranks are relatively harmless. Some children, however, carry the trick-or-treat tradition too far. The result is usually minor property damage, but more serious consequences occasionally occur, including personal injuries.

Arizona law imposes limited responsibility on parents or guardians for intentional acts of their children that injure others or damage their property. Although parents automatically are liable for these losses, this liability is limited to $10,000.  The law applies to all children who are younger than age 18, and to all parents or guardians who have custody or control of them.

If a child intentionally injures you or damages your property and your loss is well over $10,000, the liability law created by our Legislature will be of limited value to you.

Regardless of the size of your loss, you may look to the offending child's parents only to the extent of $10,000.

Under some circumstances, the common law (court-made law) may give you additional hope, but hope is often the extent of it. 

To recover your losses in excess of $10,000, you generally must prove that they knew of their child's tendencies toward malicious behavior and they failed to take reasonable measures to prevent it. This is usually difficult, and often impossible.

The limited financial penalty imposed on parents of a misbehaving child who harms others may not be the only consequence of a child's bad conduct. A minor who commits a criminal act may be charged with being “delinquent.”  Delinquency cases are handled by county juvenile courts. Some older minors are charged as if they were adults. Their cases are handled by the Superior Court.

Faced with limited protection, people should protect themselves as much as possible from injury and other harm caused by others, and parents should exercise effective control over their children—not just on Halloween, but every day of the year.