Last updated 6 April 2016
Whether or not a child is liable for the consequences of their wrongful acts depends on the degree of reasonable care required of them. This in turn depends upon the standard of care normally expected of a child of that age.
The defence of infancy may be used by a very young child in a negligence action. A young child may be aware of what they are doing and may know that the action is wrong, but still be incapable of foreseeing the consequences. In such a case, there would be no liability in negligence (see the case of McHale v Watson (1964) 111 CLR 384). The capacity of a child is a question of fact to be considered and decided in each case. Obviously, the closer a child is to the age of maturity, the more the standard of care resembles that required of an adult. Where a child engages in an adult activity, such as driving a car or handling a gun, they are expected to conform to a standard of care applicable to an adult. A child is also judged by a standard appropriate to their age where the child’s contributory negligence is being considered in reducing their own claim for damages.
Normally, parents are not liable for torts (civil wrongs) committed by their children. Liability will usually only arise if the child who commits the wrong was acting as the parent’s agent or with their authority, or when it is found that a parent has not exercised proper control or supervision over a child who has committed a tort. Naturally, the circumstances will differ in each case.
Parents who know their child to have uncontrollable tendencies have a much stricter duty to control them.