I am fortunate enough to live in a fairly close knit community full of beautiful families and a lot of kids. However, no matter how amazing of a community I might live in, the truth is, we, like most communities, still have the occasional chaos that neighbors will complain about. Indeed, we hear about it all – from minor situations like barking dogs, rules of an HOA, or kids making too much dust playing in the dirt to increasingly more problematic issues like speeders, theft of packages from people’s doorsteps, and vandalism of facilities on occasion. Our community even has a Facebook page wherein people will, in addition to posting good things going on in the community, also discuss these kinds of issues and/or put people on blast for perceived transgressions.
In this mix of issues that people will talk about includes rambunctious kids, often teenagers, that make poor decisions and choose to do things like break little kids playground equipment in the community because the equipment isn’t being utilized properly or perhaps steal items from people’s property – probably because they think it is funny and don’t really consider the consequences. Today, many people have camera phones and/or camera systems set up on their homes that catch the perpetrators in action. The community response to these kinds of issues are as mixed as the members of the community. Some people demand that the local police/sheriff is called. Others will post the images, if they have them, onto Facebook as a form of public shaming. Some will hold onto the images and complain about it on the community Facebook page hoping that the parents of children will take some responsibility and have discussions with their kids. Even yet, some will do a combination of any or all of the above…hoping to deter future bad conduct.
In one recent example that I can think of one homeowner caught on tape what appeared to be a teenager stealing an item from his property. The homeowner wrote on the Facebook community page about the transgression, advised that they had video of the act, and requested that the item be returned. Of course, there was a community uproar and all kinds of advice (good and bad in my opinion) was handed out on how the homeowner should handle the situation. Further review of the comments to the thread suggest that the homeowner spoke to the perpetrating teen’s parents and allegedly received a “kids will be kids” mentality response. Ah…maybe “kids will be kids” but when it comes to property damage and/or theft, at least here in Arizona, that could be problematic for the parents and is something that should be taken a little more seriously.
PARENTS CAN BE LIABLE FOR THEIR “KIDS BEING KIDS”
Now if something happens that is purely accidental a parent probably won’t be found to be liable. However, if your little Pumpkin, Prince/Princess, or Snowflake does it on purpose – well, you could have a legal battle ahead of you. Your kid may have only taken a $5.00 Dollar Store troll doll from someone’s front sidewalk and/or smashed it in the road because it seemed funny, however, in the eyes of the person whose property was stolen or damaged…it’s not so funny. What’s the harm? It’s only $5.00 right? Well, let’s look at how this can escalate into a mess that could cost you well over $5.00 to deal with.
CIVIL LIABILITIES IMPUTIMPUTEDED TO THE PARENTS
Arizona Revised Statute § 12-661 covers liabilities of parents or legal guardians for malicious or willful misconduct of minors. As of this writing, Section 12-661(A) states “Any act of malicious or wilful misconduct of a minor which results in any injury to the person or property of another, to include theft or shoplifting, shall be imputed to the parents or legal guardian having custody or control of the minor whether or not such parents or guardian could have anticipated the misconduct for all purposes of civil damages, and such parents or guardian having custody or control shall be jointly and severally liable with such minor for any actual damages resulting from such malicious or wilful misconduct.” Section 12-661(B) states “The joint and several liability of one or both parents or legal guardian having custody or control of a minor under this section shall not exceed ten thousand dollars for each tort of the minor. The liability imposed by this section is in addition to any liability otherwise imposed by law.” Emphasis of bold, italics, and underlining added.
HOW THINGS CAN GET EXPENSIVE FOR UNSUSPECTING PARENTS
Depending on how important the issue is to the homeowner, and how much damage was done, the homeowner very well file a complaint against you for the actual damages utilizing A.R.S. § 12-661 AND any other related civil causes of action including legal theories like negligence and the duty of care (especially if parents had notice of the misconduct and failed to do anything to try and deter such behavior) which may provide for monetary remedies beyond actual damages. More than one child involved? You may have to multiply those damages per child involved. Further, most insurance companies will not agree to pay out claims caused by an intentional act so one shouldn’t rely on that either.
Depending on the damage amount claimed or estimated in a compliant will determine which court (Small Claims Court – up to $3,500, Justice Court – up to $10,000, or Superior Court – over $10,000) your matter will be heard in. The general rule of thumb, the bigger the court, the more expensive the filings fees and other costs may be. For example, a response to a complaint filed in the Maricopa County Superior Court currently costs $237.00. Need to hire an attorney to defend you in the civil matter? A recent State Bar of Arizona magazine article has suggested that the billing rate for many attorneys in Arizona is $275.00/hr. I have colleagues that bill upwards of $465 an hour and some have a minimum bill of .2 – that’s 12 minutes or $55.00 if your attorney bills the $275/hr. Send a text message asking about your case. That’s $55.00 done and gone – just like that. I can advise from experience that many attorneys will expect an upfront retainer of $5,000 – $25,000 depending on the complexity of the matter and your Answer to a Complaint alone can run $2,500 or more. Then you add in the legal research fees, the copy fees, mailing fees and anything else that might be required for your case. What about your time? Your time is valuable right? What about the time you will have to devote to tending to legal matters? Time is the one thing you can’t get back…
FAILURE TO CORRECT ACTIONS ON LITTLE THINGS CAN LEAD TO BIGGER PROBLEMS
As adults we are all likely aware of the big Bernie Madoff situation where he stole $18 billion (yes, billion with a B) from investors. No one starts out with big things. No one sets out to have a career of misdeeds that can land them into legal trouble just as an addict doesn’t take their first hit or sip anticipating becoming an addict. Apparently Madoff told Vanity Fair “Well, you know what happens is, it starts out with you taking a little bit, maybe a few hundred, a few thousand…You get comfortable with that, and before you know it, it snowballs into something big.” Now it’s a stretch to compare kids to Bernie Madoff, however, you get the point – and the psychology on it is pretty much the same.
According to the Association for Psychological Science, “[a] new study finds that getting away with minor infractions ends up making it easier for people to justify bigger, more serious ethical violations. Over time, small ethical transgressions – like stealing pens from work – can put employees on the ‘slippery slope’ of increasingly bad behavior.” You can review the full article here. This is why it is imperative that parents take action with even the smallest of issues – which includes figuring out why your child is misbehaving (which might include seeking assistance from a family counselor, doctor, support group, etc.), determining appropriate consequences and sticking with those consequences. It’s also important to monitor your kids behavior and keep him/her away from situations in which there is temptation to continue with poor choices.
Until next time friends…
All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon. All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.