Know your rights: Parent usually is not liable for a child's wrongful act

By Richard Alderman
Feb. 9, 2013 at midnight
Updated Feb. 8, 2013 at 8:09 p.m.

My son was hurt at school when another 8-year-old child pushed him and broke his arm. The hospital bills are almost $2,000, and we do not have any insurance. Are the child's parents responsible for our medical bills?

When someone injures another, the law considers it a "tort." Torts may be intentional, such as battery when someone hits or pushes another, or unintentional, such as negligence, when someone doesn't act as they should and without any intent injures another.

In most cases, the only time the parent is responsible for a tort committed by the child is when the parent did not properly supervise the child and that is why the injury occurred. There is an exception, however, for certain intentional torts. A parent is libel for the willful and malicious conduct of a child who is at least 10 years of age but under 18 years of age.

In this case, I don't see any way the parent would be legally responsible.

This does not mean, however, that there is no liability. Children can be responsible for their own torts. If this was an intentional act designed to injure your son, the child who pushed your son has committed the tort of battery and could be responsible.

I suggest you discuss this with the parents and try to work something out. I doubt the parents would like to see their child end up being sued in small claims court.

I share a backyard fence with my neighbor. The so-called "good" side of the fence faces my neighbor's property. My neighbor installed the fence 20 years ago. The fence is beginning to lean. My neighbor claims the weed eater used by my lawn service company is cutting the fence posts, causing the fence to lean. Who is responsible for repairing or replacing the fence?

If in fact your lawn service company has caused the fence to lean, you would be responsible for the costs of repair. In my opinion, however, it is unlikely that the weed eater has caused this problem. It may be that the fence is just old and needs to be replaced. If that is the case, you probably have no legal responsibility to pay any of the costs. Without any Home Owners or Civic Association rules, the owner of the fence is responsible to maintain it, and if it needs to be replaced he can replace it or just tear it down.

There is no legal obligation of the neighbor to contribute to the cost of repairing or replacing the fence. In most cases, however, neighbors voluntarily agree to share the costs. In my opinion, the neighborly thing to do is share some of the expenses of repairing or replacing the fence. If you cannot afford to do this or simply to no want to, I do not believe your neighbor can force you help out with the costs.

A short time ago I purchased a box of crunchy snacks. While I was eating the snack I pulled something out of the box that did not feel right. It was not popcorn, peanut, pretzel or a cracker; it was a caramel covered bone - no joke, not a hoax. I tried to contact the manufacturer but I have not received a response. What can I do? How much money should I be entitled to? Do I need a lawyer?

In my opinion, your best remedy is to continue to try to contact the manufacturer and return to the store where you purchased the product. The store that sells a product is also responsible when it contains a defect such as this. I don't see any reason you should contact a lawyer. In my opinion, your damages are just the return of the purchase price or a new box of snacks. Fortunately, you were not injured and discovered the bone before you bit into it. As far as the law is concerned, the only loss you incurred was the price you paid for a defective box of snacks. This is not a situation that should involve a lawsuit.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a Web page at



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