The law has always recognized that parents have a duty to supervise their children and that they could be held liable to those suffering damage as a result of a parent’s failure to properly supervise. However, in 2000 the government of Ontario passed legislation to make it easier for victims to recover the damages they suffer as a result of your children’s antics, including property damage and theft.
The Parental Responsibility Act holds parents financially responsible for damages intentionally caused by their minor children. Pursuant to section 2, the Act allows the victim to bring a claim against the parents through Small Claims Court. Victims can sue:
• for loss of or damage to the property suffered as a result of the activity of the child; and
• for economic loss suffered as a consequence of that loss of or damage to property.
A victim, who decides to sue in Small Claims Court, has to prove only three things in order to shift the burden of proof onto the parent.
1. The child caused the damage or loss.
2. The defendants are the parents of the child.
3. The amount of the damage.
In order not to be liable for the damages, the defendant parent must prove that:
• The loss or damage was not caused intentionally; or
• They exercised reasonable supervision of the child and made reasonable efforts to prevent the damage from occurring.
To assist the courts in determining whether or not a parent has exercised reasonable supervision, the Act sets out a list of factors that may be taken into account, including:
• the age of the child;
• the prior conduct of the child;
• the physical or mental capacity of the child;
• whether the child was under the direct supervision of the parent at the time when the child was engaged in the activity;
• whether the parent made reasonable arrangements for supervision of the child.
The following case2 was decided under to the Parental Responsibility Act. It provides a good overview of how the process works.
The Shannons’ home was burglarized by two boys, 14 and 10. The 14-year old had been hired for the summer to watch the 10-year old. During the first seven weeks, everything ran smoothly and the boys stayed out of trouble. Towards the end of summer, the 14-year old decided to break into the Shannons’ house and he talked his 10-year old charge into helping him. More than $19,000 worth of property was never recovered. The Shannons sued the children’s parents.
Although both boys had had some minor behavioural problems at school, there had been nothing to predict this conduct. The boys had been taught by their parents not to steal. The 14-year old had been left on his own a number of times without incident, and he had babysat the 10-year old on a prior occasion.
The trial judge dismissed the case against the 14-year old’s parents. Justice Miller concluded that, based on his age, experience and background prior to the theft, it was reasonable for his parents to assume he could be trusted and that he would behave appropriately.
The trial judge also dismissed the case against the 10-year old’s parents, concluding that they had acted reasonably in deciding to delegate their supervisory responsibilities to the 14-year old, while they were at work. The factors taken into account by the judge included, the babysitter’s age, that their child was relatively well-behaved, the lack of previous incidents and the structure that the parents had imposed on the two children.
Although the Shannons were unsuccessful in their suit against the parents, they did get judgement against the two boys.