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Are parents responsible when their kids behave badly?

We all know that a dog owner is strictly liable when their dog bites someone. There is no “free” dog bite. The owner has to pay for the damages. But what about when their kids behave badly?

The recent case involving Audrie Pott, who committed suicide after school mates posted photos of her being sexually assaulted at a drunken party, is beyond tragic! Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident in today’s world. Kids use poor judgment that often results in harm to others. They are involved in more fatal car crashes, they go to parties, get drunk and freeze to death in the snow, fall off cliffs, bully others, get in fights, and encourage dangerous behavior from their friends.

Unfortunately, tragedy often results. Kids are terribly injured and they die, or they are so emotionally scarred that they take their own lives.

Most of us know that wrongful acts of minor children can have criminal consequences through the juvenile court system, and adult children can be criminally prosecuted, but many people don’t know that parents can also be held civilly liable for financial damages when their kids “party out of bounds.” This is true whether your child is over the age of 18 or not, if they are still living at home, and of course it depends on the particular circumstances.

As a parent, you need to be alert to whether or not your child is one that is being bullied, or bullying others, or engaging in other potentially dangerous conduct such as drinking, taking drugs, driving dangerously, or any number of other dumb things that young people do. While many parents try to be their child’s friend, sometimes the best thing that a parent can do is to get serious and point out the severe consequences that can result, including criminal and civil repercussions.

Most kids don’t want their parents to get involved. Tough! Get involved! If you suspect your child is being bullied, you need to inform school authorities, contact the parents of the wrongdoers, and take whatever other action is necessary. If none of this works, sue!

That’s right, I said it. Sue the bastards. Intentional infliction of emotional distress is illegal. It does cause harm, as can be seen by the recent suicide of Audrie Pott. While this case seems an extreme example, young people are in fact injured by this wrongful conduct more often than most know. Several similar cases have occurred in just the past six months, in Canada, and in Texas.

Sometimes the injuries are physical. A few years ago, The Cartwright Law Firm sued the Santa Rosa School District because they were aware that young boys were punching each other in the chest as a sign of being “macho.” My client’s son was punched, and dropped dead. Most people are unaware of this, but a single, even moderate impact to the chest, if timed perfectly, can cause instant death in a young person. It is called commotion cordis, a phenomenon that usually results in ventricular fibrillation leading to sudden cardiac death if treatment by defibrillation is not immediately given. Essentially, there’s an interruption of the heart rhythm which is almost invariably fatal. It also happens to be illegal to punch somebody – it is called battery. It is not cool, and your child is not a “wimp” for standing up for his or herself.- when they refuse to engage in such stupid behavior.

In another case, a student had a party when her parents were out of town. Many of her classmates stole things from the house and wore them around the school during the following weeks. This included a Rolex watch and a fur coat. The kids were bragging about this. We brought suit against the parents of those kids. Word got around and everyone in that school learned a good lesson. That kind of behavior is simply not acceptable in a civilized society.

While many people don’t like the idea of law suits, they do serve a useful social function. We get the attention of others and hopefully change future conduct. In another case, two young people had sexually explicit pictures of themselves on their computer. Another student got a hold of the computer and without permission, disseminated these photos all over the internet. A suit was brought against that student’s parents, and it was quite costly to them. If your kid has been in several accidents and is living at home, and they seriously injure or kill someone, under certain circumstances, the parents can be held liable. Talk to your kids! Their conduct may not just involve them, but may involve your family. They need to be made aware that their actions can have very serious consequences.

Bullying and intentional infliction of emotional distress, battery, sexual misconduct, and criminal misconduct are all products of bad judgment, which our kids are frankly pre-disposed to exercise. Talk to your kids! If they are engaging in wrongful conduct, do what is necessary to see that it stops. If you suspect that your child is a victim of wrongful conduct, intervene! While your child may hate you at first, you will ultimately teach a lesson that is important – it is not OK when kids behave badly. As they mature, they will respect you for it. We all must stand up for ourselves in life. Wrongful, potentially dangerous behavior cannot be tolerated. And while The Cartwright Law Firm stands ready to help when such tragedies occur, we’d rather see parents doing the right thing, to prevent the unimaginable from happening to their own, or to another parents, child.

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Santa Rosa, CA 95404

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