Are parents responsible for their children's actions?

When are minors liable?

Basically, everyone is responsible for their own actions. Because children and young people, however, because of their brain physiological and psychological development are unable to fully assess the consequences of their actions, the liability of children is regulated differently than that of adults. Children are only liable from a certain age and parents do not always have to be responsible for the damage caused to children.

The legal age grading for questions of liability

According to civil law, the first age limit is seven years (Section 828 (1) BGB). Up to this age children are not liable for their actions as they do not have sufficient knowledge of the consequences that could result from them. Anyone who has reached the age of seven but not the age of ten is not responsible for the damage caused to another person in an accident with a motor vehicle, a railroad or a suspension railway. However, this only applies if the child did not act deliberately. Up to the age of majority, the liability of children and adolescents only applies if one adequate awareness can be proven for the act. Nevertheless, it depends on the circumstances and the gravity of the crime.

There are also older children and even young people limited insight with regard to their actions and the consequences thereof, juvenile criminal law applies in the event of liability. This also applies to a limited extent between the ages of 18 and 21, as the brain also continues to develop during this time. Only when the human control center has fully developed is one from a legal point of view full liability justified.

According to Section 19 of the Criminal Code, minors under 14 years are completely incompetent due to their level of development, which is why liability is excluded. If a 13-year-old is guilty of theft, he can be held responsible for it.

Criminal liability of children and adolescents

So who is liable if the child scratches the neighbor's car and damages them? The liability is excluded up to the age of seven. According to Section 828 (2) of the German Civil Code (BGB), the liability of children after the age of seven and ten for certain acts is excluded, unless the child acted willfully. Therefore, the child is not responsible for the damage they cause to another in an accident with a motor vehicle, a railroad or a suspension railway. The child is then not liable.

For the liability of minors in Road traffic However, in 2002 the legislature made a different regulation: Since children still have to learn the rules as road users, liability in these cases only applies from the age of 10 according to Section 828 (3) of the German Civil Code (BGB).

Important: Parents are only partially liable for their children

Although widely believed, parents are not automatically responsible for the actions of their minor children. Parents are only liable if they have not properly fulfilled their duty of supervision and childcare is neglected. If the parents have fulfilled their duty of supervision, liability according to Section 832 of the German Civil Code (BGB) is excluded. As a rule of thumb, children up to the age of seven must be in direct contact with their parents approximately every 30 minutes. Also teachings and the Education about certain dangers are part of the parental duties.

With all of this in place, parents do not have to pay for the harm caused by their children. In most cases, however, the damage caused by children is covered by parents' liability insurance. Whether the offspring is included in this can be checked by looking at the contract details. The sentence “Parents are responsible for their children”, which is often emblazoned on construction site signs and at the entrance to playgrounds, is therefore not valid in most cases.

If your underage child has caused damage and you are not sure whether you are liable for this or whether your child can be held responsible, we will inform you in the context of a Initial consultation gladly about the legal regulations. Contact us!

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Article legally checked by the KLUGO editorial team

The article was created with great care by the KLUGO editorial team and legally checked. In addition, we supplement our guide with valuable tips directly from the experts: Our specialized partner lawyers show what is important on the respective topic.
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