Who is Liable for Accidents Caused by Children?

Has your child caused an accident?

If someone is involved in an accident caused by a child, it can be tricky to make a successful legal claim. Depending on the age of the child, it can be very hard to prove that the child was negligent in law (a child is aged 16 or under for these purposes – a 17-18-year-old will be held to the same standard as an adult).

Even if it can be proved that an older child was negligent, it will probably not be worth pursuing legal action as the child is unlikely to have any money out of which they can pay compensation.

Is there any way to make a compensation claim?

It may be possible in limited circumstances to claim compensation for injuries or losses caused by a child. However, it depends on the age of the child. Very young children cannot be treated as negligent in law because they are too young to understand or appreciated the consequences of their actions.

However, in some cases older children could be found to be negligent – although there remains the issue of whether the child has any assets to pay compensation. There are generally only four ways in which a child could be made to pay compensation:

  • Where the child is 10 years and over, and has been convicted of a criminal act in England and Wales, a compensation order could be made in respect of an injury, loss or damage that resulted from the offence
  • Where the child could be found negligent, and owns their own assets so could pay compensation
  • Where a judgment against a child can be enforced for six years following the date of the judgment, during which period the child may become able to pay (eg. because they have become an adult and are earning their own money)
  • Where the child could be found negligent in law, and lives with their parents in a home which has building and contents insurance covering the risk of paying compensation for negligent acts by a household member, including children

Where a child is sued for compensation for negligence, the courts are most likely to take a subjective approach as to whether the child was negligent. This means that the court will consider the individual characteristics of the child, such as their intelligence, upbringing, experience and maturity in deciding whether they were negligent. So a child with learning difficulties cannot be held to a greater degree of care for his own safety than that which he is capable of exercising.

Liability of parents and carers

In England and Wales, parents or carers are not automatically liable for the personal injury, loss or damage that the child has caused. However, if a parent was negligent in, for instance, allowing the child’s actions that caused harm or injury, or for failing to prevent the incident – the parent could be held liable.

So if the child was accompanied by a responsible adult at the time of the incident, it may be possible to take legal action against the adult. However, it will have to be shown that the adult acted negligently.

Even if the child was not with a responsible adult, it may be possible to take legal action against an adult for failing to oversee the child at the time of the accident. This, of course, depends on whether the adult owed a duty of care towards others at the time.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.