Can Parents Be Sued for the Actions of Their Children?

As early as 1978, the High Court of Justice of Ontario ruled that parents can be sued for the actions of their children.

Floyd et al. v. Bowers et al.

In the case called Floyd et al. v. Bowers et al., Floyd, aged 13, lost his eyesight in one eye after he was shot with a pump-action pellet gun by Bowers, also aged 13.

In the Floyd case, which was decided on July 31, 1978, the High Court of Justice of Ontario said, "There is no liability upon the parents resulting from the child's torts based solely on the parent and child relationship, unless negligence is established on the part of the parents.”

The court ruled that Bowers’ parents were responsible for the action of their child. Failure to control or prevent easy access to both the gun and the ammunition was seen by the court as negligence on the part of  Bowers’ parents. The court added that Bowers’ parents were also negligent in failing to instruct their son in the proper use of the gun.

Parental Responsibility Act of 2000

In Ontario, the law called Parental Responsibility Act of 2000, expressly lays out the circumstances where parents can be sued for the actions of their children. Section 2, paragraph 1 of the Ontario law states that when a child, under 18 years old, “takes, damages or destroys property,” the person entitled to the property may sue the parents of the child before the Small Claims Court to recover damages.

The Ontario law also lays out two instances where the parents cannot be sued for the actions of their children:

  1. When the action of the child that resulted in loss or damage was not intentional; and
  2. When the parents exercise “reasonable supervision” and “made reasonable efforts to prevent or discourage” the child in doing the act that resulted in the loss or damage.

Will your insurance company bail you out in case you are sued as a negligent parent?

In the case called Unifund Assurance Company v. D.E. and its companion case C.S. v. TD Home and Auto Insurance Company, the principal parties asked the Court of Appeal of Ontario that their respective insurance companies bail them out or pay their bills in another case that claimed that they were negligent as parents in preventing a series of bullying incidents caused by their minor daughters.

The parents’ insurance policies in these two cases include liability coverage in the event that their personal actions resulted in unintentional bodily injury or property damage.

On the same day, on May 21, 2015, the Court of Appeal of Ontario decided that the insurance companies in both Unifund and C.S. cases have no duty to defend and indemnify the parents sued as a result of their children’s actions. The court reasoned that the parents’ actions fall within the insurance policy exclusion, which is “failing to prevent abuse.”