A teenager who had been drinking assaulted with the butt of a shotgun someone who was attempting to take away his car keys. The shotgun was a gift from the minor’s parents. They allowed him to keep it in his truck.
The man suffered several facial fractures and incurred $40,000 in medical bills. He claimed permanent damage to his left eye and ongoing memory loss, sleep disorders and headaches. The minor eventually pleaded guilty to second degree assault and was sentenced to nine months’ confinement.
The minor’s parents were held not liable. The trial court granted summary judgment, a decision upheld by the Washington Court of Appeals.
The injured man sued, arguing negligent supervision of a child, negligent furnishing of a firearm, general negligence and for statutory liability under RCW 4.24.190. The parents offered $5,000 under RCW 4.24.190, a statute that makes parents liable for willful and malicious acts but limits that liability to $5,000.
In order to establish a claim of negligent supervision against parents for the acts of a minor child, the plaintiff must establish that (1) the child has a dangerous proclivity, (2) the parents know of the child’s dangerous proclivity, and (3) the parents fail to exercise reasonable care in controlling that proclivity. The minor had an insignificant disciplinary history. The injured man argued that all parents should know of the dangerous proclivity of all minors in possession of a gun. The Court rejected the broad assertion.
In Washington one who supplies property to another “whom the supplier knows or has reason to know to be likely because of his youth, inexperience, or otherwise, to use it in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical harm . .” may be liable for harm caused. The Court held that here “there was no evidence presented in this case from which a reasonable jury could find that in providing a shotgun, for hunting, to this safety-trained, licensed, apparently-law-abiding, historically responsible 17-year-old—a young man old enough to enlist in the armed forces—the [parents] knew or had reason to know that it was likely he would use it in a manner involving an unreasonable risk of physical harm.”
Many wrongly assume parents are “automatically” liable for the actions of minors. Depending on circumstances the parents of a minor may be fully liable, partially liable, or, very often, not liable at all.
If you have questions about the liability of a minor’s parents for your injuries you should consult with an attorney.