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Parents usually try to teach and encourage their children to take responsibility for their own actions. But when those actions lead to property damage or other losses, who does the law hold responsible? Is it the child that is legally responsible or is it the parents? What is the law of parental liability in BC?
The common law in Canada doesn’t prevent civil claims from being brought against minors, but children, especially younger ones, aren’t usually all that likely to be held responsible. Their actions will be viewed against what might be expected of children the same age. Even if a court did find a child liable, there would rarely be much point in bringing the case in the first place. When a civil lawsuit is started the goal is usually to ask the court to award damages, or money, that would compensate for the loss that occurred. Not many kids are going to have enough Lego to pay off a judgment.
A child’s parents on the other hand may very well have substantial assets, but are they legally responsible for their children’s actions? The answer in most of Canada is no, however, the law in British Columbia is different. The Parental Liability Act holds parents responsible for intentional loss or damage caused by their children up to a limit of $10,000. Parents won’t be responsible if they can show they supervised the child and discouraged the behaviour, making court cases under this law very rare. Claims have been started for reasons such as a stolen computer and for stealing from and then vandalizing a house.
Parents in BC ought to be much more concerned with the School Act, that says that parents will be held responsible for the damage caused by their children to school property, whether that damage was intentional or not. The parent’s own actions are not a defence and there is no dollar limit. Thankfully this too has led to very few cases in the courts. The consequences of those cases have been very harsh, however, for the families involved. In one case several teens went joyriding in 1993 before setting a car on fire on school grounds. The fire ended up causing $3 million dollars worth of damage. The court of appeal held the teens’ parents responsible. More recently, a student played a prank that unintentionally caused the fire sprinklers to go off in his school. While this incident was far more of an accident than the previous cases mentioned, the incident caused nearly $50,000 in damage and the parents were ultimately responsible for the clean up costs.
While the courts have recognized that the effect of this legislation is draconian and can place an enormous burden on parents who may be blameless themselves, this remains the law in BC. If you have children, this is just one more reason to make sure you have sufficient home or rental insurance to make sure your family isn’t devastated
Andrew Broadley is an associate lawyer at League and Williams who practices in the areas of estate litigation and personal injury. If you have a personal injury you would like to discuss, we offer free consultations and may be contacted through our offices at 250-888-0002 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.