law of tort

This article is written by Darshika Lodha, a BBA.LLB(Hons.) student of Unitedworld School of Law, Karnavati University. This article deals with Vicarious Liability in Gaurdian Ward Relationship.


Vicarious liability is a condition in which a party is partly or wholly liable for the unlawful conduct of a third party. The third party is also part of this obligation. Vicarious liability may arise in situations where one party is held responsible (and the third party has control) and is negligent in carrying out that responsibility and in exercising that control. In the case of vicarious liability, this is the responsibility of a person who is liable for the act of another person. The common example of such liability is:

  1. Liability of principal for the tort of his agent.
  2. Liability of partners of each other tort.
  3. The company and its directors.
  4. Owner and Independent Contractor.
  5. Parent’s liability for the tort of their ward.
  6. Liability of the master for the tort of his servant.

Liability of Parents in Children’s Tort

Parents have a fundamental right to care for their children, as recognized by the Supreme Court, the right comes with a responsibility to supervise and monitor the activities of the child. Courts have consistently held that States have a legitimate interest in fostering public health by keeping parents responsible for failing to perform that responsibility. This is the basis on which the courts comply with the laws on parental responsibility. As a general rule, a parent or guardian can not be held liable for the wrongdoing of a child. There are two exceptions to this rule:

When the child is the servant or agent of the father, the father is vicariously responsible for the act of the infant. It must be taken into account that, in such a situation, the father is liable for the wrong of his son, not as his parent, but as employer or principle.

In the case of Hagerty v Powers (1885), in Haggerty, an eleven-year-old boy shot and wounded another child. The plaintiff argued that the father “leave his youngest child to suffer the loss of a pistol” due to negligence and carelessness in handling the pistol. Despite these terms, the court also found that the parents were not financially liable for their son’s actions.

When a father, by his own negligence, gives his child the opportunity to commit a wrong, he is liable.

In the case of Bebee v. Sales, the father supplied his son, who was 15 years old, with an airgun. Also, after so many allegations of negligence caused by the gun, he allowed the gun to stay with the boy who unintentionally wounded the complainant. That’s what the father held responsible for.

A teenager who brutally and negligently smashed his car into someone’s vehicle committed an offence under common law, but his parents would not have been held liable if they had no reason to know that he was driving negligently. Yet this left the injured without a means of redress for their losses. Today, all 50 US states have laws of some kind that keep parents responsible for damages incurred by their children’s abuse. Under many of these laws, a parent’s lack of knowledge of the child’s conduct is irrelevant, and the parent is liable for the harm caused by the child’s negligence or wrongdoing. This is a form known as a vicarious obligation.

Parent’s Civil Liability towards their Child

Each state in the US has its own law on the civil liability of parents for the acts of their children. Parents may be held responsible for the harmful actions of their children in the same way that employers are responsible for the harmful actions of their employees. This concept of law is commonly referred to as vicarious liability. Parents are therefore indirectly or vicariously liable for damages incurred by their child. There are different parents’ civil liability and ways in which parents can be forced to pay damages for their children’s actions.

Liability for Compensating the Victim

Several states rule that parents are financially responsible for damages incurred by their children. When the child reaches the age of 18 years (no longer a minor) the parents will not be responsible for any damages due to their civil wrongs. Upon entering the age of majority, the rights of parents over a minor are revoked, the parent can no longer be held responsible for the act of the child because the legal relationship between the child and the parent has ended. In certain US states, the government has placed a cap on the amount that parents will be liable for. Civil liability varies from state to state. Many of these are actions that require the liability of parents. They are:

  1. Vandalism of government or school money.
  2. Destruction of national and state flags, cemetery headstones, public buildings or historic landmarks.
  3. Property destroyed in crimes of hatred based on race or religion.

Personal damages incurred in connection with such acts shall result in the parent being liable for damages.

Negligent Supervision

The parent shall be liable for the negligent act of the child if the parent clearly knows or has reason to know the civil wrong that is necessary to control the child and the parents have played a negligent role in their part by failing to take reasonable measures to prevent the child from doing so. In the case of Robertson v. Wentz, the Court held that “the capacity to influence the child rather than the relationship as such is the basis for a finding of liability on the part of the parent. Failure to do so is fatal to the claim of legal responsibility. The capacity to regulate is derived from the relationship between the parent and the minor child, as is the relationship between the custodian and the custodian; nevertheless, the circumstances surrounding the specific case can be disproved.


In particular, we recognize the different situations in which a minor can be prosecuted. As discussed, a minor must be regarded on the basis of his or her age of rationality. The parent, guardian or others who are in the custody of the child shall be held liable for the civil wrong done by him or her and for the damages and injuries caused by him or her. A parent may be liable for penalties or compensation for damages. If the child is less than 18 years of age, the parents will be held liable for their civil wrongs. If the child has reached the age of majority, the parents will not be liable for any damages wrongfully incurred by the child.

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