Your Liability to your Children

The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.

This topic discusses the liability you may incur with respect to your children. You should consult with a lawyer if you have specific concerns about liability for your children in all circumstances.

Liability for Children’s Actions

If your child injures someone or damages their property, your liability depends on the age of the child and the circumstances under which the damage occurred. A parent or guardian would need to demonstrate that they used reasonable care in the situation.

You are required to supervise your child so that he or she does not come to physical or moral harm or cause harm to others. If your child is older, you are expected to supervise your child so that he or she does not get involved in unlawful behaviour. For example, if your 2 year old child wanders into your neighbour’s yard, falls into the swimming pool and drowns, the neighbour may be held responsible for leaving the pool unfenced, but you may be held responsible for allowing your child to wander away.

If you allow your child to do something that an adult usually does, then the child is expected to behave as an adult would. For example, if you allowed your child to drive a snowmobile, the child would be expected to drive as well as an adult. If an accident occurred that was your child’s fault, both you and the child may be held responsible.

If you allow your child to play with a dangerous tool or weapon (such as a pellet gun) unsupervised, and the child injures a playmate, you may be held responsible. The Courts would likely consider you negligent for trusting your child with a dangerous weapon. If, however, you took all reasonable precautions to prevent injury you may not be held to blame. For example, if a gun was locked away and your child was told not to use it in your absence, but your child disobeyed, broke into the place where you locked away the gun and used the gun without your permission.

Being Sued for your Child’s Actions

To succeed in an action against you, an injured party must prove that you did not exercise reasonable care in regard to your child in the circumstance. This is determined by whether a parent or guardian would have reasonably been able to foresee the possibility of danger arising from your child’s conduct. Again, your liability for any damage done will depend on the child’s age and the circumstances under which the damage occurred.

Avoiding Liability

If a child is not under the age of 18 and behaving in such a way that you fear you may be held liable for his or her behaviour, you can report this to the Alberta Children’s Services. After reviewing the situation, the Department may declare your child to be a neglected or a delinquent and request that the Court to order the child be made a temporary ward of Children’s Services or be supervised by a child welfare worker.

Your child cannot obtain a driver’s licence without your permission before the age of 18, unless he or she is self-supporting or married. An insurance company will likely ask you to co‑sign for their insurance coverage before they are 18 years of age. In this case, ensure that you ask the insurance company about their policies for drivers under the 18.

Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.