In Florida, the Supreme Court has held that a parent is not liable for the tort (wrongdoing) committed by a minor based solely on the mere fact of paternity, according to Snow v. Nelson, 475 So. 2d 225, 226 (Fla. 1985). However, there are four defined exceptions where a parent may be held liable as laid out by the Snow Court:
- Where the parent entrusts the child with an instrumentality, such as a car or an ATV, which, because of the child’s lack of age, judgment, or experience, may become a source of danger to others;
- where the child committing the tort is acting as a servant or agent of its parents;
- where the parent consents, directs, or sanctions the wrongdoing;
- where the parent fails to exercise control over the minor child although the parent knows or with due care should know that injury to another is possible.
So, what happens if the parents of a 16-year-old boy leave the minor home alone with his friends, the teen decides to take a 4-wheeler for a ride with his friend, and the friend is injured?
In a recent Florida case, the Court held that the parents were not liable or negligent for failing to supervise their child. In this case, the child was specifically told that he could not operate the 4-wheeler unless the parents were home and he disobeyed his parent’s rule. In addition, it was shown that the teen was very experienced at operating the vehicle and had never been in a 4-wheeler accident prior.
The Court held that the fourth exception did not apply because there was no evidence that the 16-year-old had, on previous occasions, taken the 4-wheeler for a ride without his parent’s permission. The Court further held that none of the other three exceptions applied.
In the Snow case, the Supreme Court found that the parents were not responsible for their child striking and injuring a younger and smaller child with a croquet mallet even though there was evidence that, prior to this incident, the minor child had a known history for pushing and hitting smaller children. The difference here is that this particular child had not previously struck anyone with a croquet mallet.
It appears that for a parent to be held responsible or negligent for the conduct of their minor child, there has to be evidence that the minor child had a habit of engaging in a particular act or course of conduct, which led to the injury of a third party.
So, taking the 4-wheeler accident case as an example, it is very likely that Florida Courts would hold the parents responsible if the 16-year-old had taken the 4-wheeler for a ride without his parents’ permission on prior occasions and if there was evidence that the 16-year-old was not a responsible operator or had been involved in a 4-wheeler accident prior.
If you, a friend or a loved one’s child suffers personal injuries or should you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact Wieland, Hilado & DeLattre, P.A. at (407) 841-7699. For additional resources, keep checking our blog, LIKE us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more helpful hints and to always be informed about best practices in law.