Your Liability to your Children

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The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on a wide variety of legal issues in the Province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.

This topic discusses the liability you may incur with respect to your children. You should consult with a lawyer if you have specific concerns about liability for your children in all circumstances.

If your child injures someone or damages their property, your liability depends on the age of the child and the circumstances under which the damage occurred. If you allow your child to do something that an adult usually does, then the child is expected to behave as an adult would. If, for example, you allowed your child to drive a snowmobile, the child would be expected to drive as well as an adult. If an accident occurred that was your child’s fault, both you and the child may be held responsible.

You are required to supervise your child so that he or she does not come to physical or moral harm or cause harm to others. If, for example, your 2 year old child wanders into your neighbour’s yard, falls into the swimming pool and drowns, the neighbour may be held responsible for leaving the pool unfenced, but you may be held responsible for allowing your child to wander away. If your child is older you are expected to supervise your child so that he or she does not get involved in delinquent behaviour such as breaking school windows.

If you let your 10 year old child use a pellet gun, unsupervised, and the child shoots and injures a playmate, you may be held responsible. The Courts would likely consider you negligent for trusting your child with a dangerous weapon. You might, however, not be held to blame, if you took all reasonable precautions to prevent such an accident. For example, the gun was locked away and your child was told not to use it in your absence, but your child disobeyed, broke into the place where you locked away the gun and used the gun without your permission.

To succeed in an action against you, the injured party must prove that you did not exercise reasonable care in regard to your child. The test of whether you acted with reasonable care is determined by whether you would have reasonably been able to foresee the possibility of danger arising from your child’s conduct.

If your child is not yet 18 and is behaving in such a way that you fear you may be held liable for his or her behaviour, you can report this to the Alberta Children’s Services. The department may declare your child to be a neglected child or a delinquent and ask the Court to order that the child be made a temporary ward of Children’s Services or be supervised by a child welfare worker. Again, your liability for any damage done will depend on the child’s age and the circumstances under which the damage occurred.

Your child cannot obtain a driver’s licence without your permission before the age of 18 years unless he or she is self-supporting or married. An insurance company will probably ask you to co‑sign for their insurance coverage. Ask your insurance company about their policies for drivers under the age of 18 years.