parents who take full responsibility and liability for their children

Liability of parents for their children

Parents have responsibility for their children, especially in the case of young children. Children lack judgment and need their parents to supervise them, to clothe and feed them, to educate them. As the child grows up, they will begin to take on more personal responsibility and the parents are less liable. When discussing legal liability this makes things interesting.

Responsibility of parents for their children

Parents must provide a good upbringing and teach children the right norms and values. Liability law places great responsibility on the shoulders of the parents, as it does with pet owners for example. The rules change depending on the age of the child, with different laws applied to children under the age of 14, children aged 15, 16, and those aged over 16. Parents might also be liable for adult children in exceptional cases.

Parental liability for children under 14

Children up to the age of 14 are not liable for the damage they cause according to Dutch liability law. The legislator states that children under this age are too young to fully understand what they are doing. This does not mean that the injured or affected party cannot claim damages, but it is the parents of the child in question that will be held liable. Strict liability only applies to parents and guardians, even in split households where the child lives with one parent permanently or shares living arrangements.

An example of strict liability when children are under 14 years old

A judgment of 14th May 2012 (ECLI:NL:RBSGR:2012:BW6816) is a case where four young children were playing in a sandbox at school. One of the four children took a shovel and hit another child on the head with it (the children were five years of age), causing a serious brain injury. The judge found that the school had not made a mistake, as there were two staff supervising only twelve children and this incident would not have been expected. The responsibility fell on the parents, even though they were not present supervising their child.

Parents’ liability for children aged 14 and 15

A child bears more responsibility at this age, with more freedom and an understanding of the consequences of their actions. The strict liability continues, and the parents still bear the legal responsibility for their child’s actions, but it is not as strict a parameter as the case mentioned above. Instead, there will be fault liability with a reversed burden of proof.

An example of the ages 14 and 15 and liability

Judgment of the District Court of Roermond, 20th July 2005 (ECLI:NL:RBROE:2005:AU1696) is a good example of this. In this case, a fourteen-year old was guilty of arson, where bunches of reeds, a tractor and cart went up in flames. The boy, who had a mental deficiency, had bought two litres of petrol from home. The parents had to prove that they had done everything possible to prevent their child’s behaviour, which the judge found they had not.

Parents’ liability for Children 16 and over

Once the child has reached 16 there are no longer any special rules that shift the liability onto the parents. They can still be held liable, but only if it can be proven that they can be blamed for something, such as failing to prevent a child from committing an act.

Parents not liable for shooting in Alphen aan den Rijn

A 24-year old man, Tristan, killed six people and wounded seventeen in a shopping centre before taking his own life in 2011. After becoming fascinated by guns through a trip to a shooting range with a friend’s father at 12, he began to hear voices at 14, drawing monsters at 15, and continues to hear voices. He becomes obsessed with the Columbine shooting in 1999 and is eventually taken to see therapists after a notebook is found with suicide plans. After years of shooting with his father, he researches Columbine some more and on the anniversary of the massacre, he recreates it in a shopping centre, at the exact time the event had first taken place. His parents were taken to court years later, but the judge ruled that they were not liable for their child’s actions.

Liability insurance for the liability of children

Children are also insured when parents take out liability insurance. The cover is for damage caused by the insured or their children, or even pets.

Liability insurance does not always pay

There are upper limits associated with liability coverage. This is often between 1 and 2.5 million Euro. When parents are liable for the behaviour of their child the insurer must compensate the damage to this upper limit, even when the child acts wilfully. The insurer might attempt to say the parents are not liable for the child’s actions, to ensure the pay-out is lower.

What happens when the child turns 18?

The liability insurer does not cover the child forever. Once the child turns 18, the policy coverage could change. If the child continues to live at home or be away for study only, they continue to be co-insured. The upper age limit is anywhere between 23 and 27 in most cases.

When a liability insurance does not pay damages →

Common situations of liability involving children

There are other examples where the irresponsibility of youth is experienced, such as where children make an online purchase without their parents’ consent, take out a subscription in similar fashion, or become a cyberbully:

  • Debt due to subscription: If a child has taken out a subscription without the consent of their parents it is down to the seller to ask the permission of the parents. If they agree (for instance, signing up to a gym membership), they are then liable for any debts. Without consent, the parents have a right to reverse the subscription and for the child to have the money returned.

  • Debt due to a purchase made by a child: Similarly, if a product or service is purchased it must be decided whether this is a ‘normal’ purchase that a child can make with the assumption that the parents agree (such as buying a book in a bookstore) or whether it is a large purchase where consent is required (where a parent can demand the nullification of the purchase agreement and ask for a return of the money).

  • Liability for events at school: Parents can still be found liable for events that take place at school. With strict liability this is even the rule. Even parents with older children can still be held liable. Schools can also be held liable for certain events though, regardless of what age the child in question is. They are required to take reasonable steps to protect others from the harmful behaviour of students.

  • Blame for behaviour on the internet: The above rules also apply when children make a purchase or take out a subscription online. Cyberbullying is another area where there can be major consequences, such as instances where cyberbullying has led to other children taking their own lives. The classic liability rules apply here, for children under the age of 14.

  • Guilt in road accidents: When a child is involved in a road traffic accident, the parents are not necessarily liable for the resulting damage. It depends on who is at fault for the accident, whether it was a motorised vehicle, and how old the child is. For example, cyclists and pedestrians are protected by law if they are hit by a car or a moped. Young children are also protected by the law.

  • Guilt during sports and games: During a sports match, if there is an injury it is important to look at who is responsible for it. There is generally a higher risk of accident and injury accepted in sports and games, however in some cases there may be liability.

Frequently asked questions about liability for children

Do I have to pay my child’s traffic ticket? When a child is 16 years or older, the child must pay the fine. If the child is under 16 years old, the parents must pay the traffic fine. The traffic fine is then 50% of the normal traffic fine. When a child commits an offense and is fined by the court, the child, regardless of age, must pay the fine themselves. The judge takes this into account when determining the fine and will not consider, for example, the income of the parents.

My adult child lives with me. Do I have to pay my child's debts?

No, and the bailiff cannot force this either. However, the bailiff can seize the child's belongings. It is then very important that the parents can prove which belongings are theirs and what belongs to the child. For example, the bailiff may take the television set in the child's bedroom, unless the parents can prove that it belongs to them. That is why it is very important to always keep receipts of purchases.

Am I responsible if my child is overdrawn on his account?

A child can only open a bank account with the consent of the parents. By signing the application form, parents simply bear responsibility. If the child has too little money in the account, the bank can contact the parents to rectify the situation.

When should my child have their own liability insurance?

With a family liability insurance policy, the number of children in the family are included and every member of the family is insured. When your child becomes 18, the specific policy you have will determine how you should proceed. Children continue to be co-insured if they live at home or are away studying up until a specific age (that each insurer will specify). After that date, the child must have their own liability insurance.

Is liability insurance for my children mandatory?

Parents are not required to purchase liability insurance. In the case of Elizabeth Kamerbeek (1969), such an obligation was rejected by the Supreme Court. It was then suggested by the plaintiff that parents automatically failed if they did not take out liability insurance for their child, but this was not accepted by the Supreme Court. Parents therefore choose whether to take out liability insurance.