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Can Parents Be Held Liable for a Child's Underage DUI?

The consequences for an underage driver getting a DUI can be severe. But can parents get in trouble if an underage child gets a DUI?

While most people are solely responsible for their criminal actions, there may be cases where parents are on the hook (criminally, civilly, or both) for a child's underage DUI.

Criminal Liability

Generally, there are very limited situations where parents will be held criminally liable for a child's criminal actions. Most courts have limited parental criminal liability to school truancy or scenarios where parents have provided access to the means by which their children break the law, like firearm and computer hacking crimes.

When it comes to underage drinking, the law gets even murkier. Many states have exceptions that allow underage kids to drink with their parents' consent and in their presence. But parents can get into serious criminal trouble for hosting underage drinking parties.

So if parents furnished the alcohol leading to a DUI, it's possible they could be criminally liable, especially if the driver is not their own child. And even if parents avoid a criminal charge, many states impose financial responsibility on parents of criminal youth by way of court costs, detention and/or treatment fees, and possibly restitution.

Civil Liability

State laws vary when it comes to a parent's civil liability for their children's harmful actions. In many cases, a parent will be held responsible for damages caused by their children until the child turns 18.

This liability can be extended, however, if an intoxicated child gets into an accident. Under the "family car doctrine," the owner of the family car is financially liable for any damage caused by the car. The doctrine may include children who are over 18 if they are still legal dependents.

And parents who live in states without the family car doctrine could still be held liable under a theory called "negligent entrustment," under which parents could be responsible for damages and injuries caused by a child.

To find out if you may be in trouble for your child's underage DUI, you may want to consult with an experienced DUI attorney near you.

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