Can a parent be liable for their adult child?

The question of liability for the actions of a third party has been litigated on several occasions in the state of Florida. Specifically, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled on the liability for parents on the actions of an adult child. The court found, “there is no duty to control the conduct of a third person to prevent [that person] from causing physical harm to another.” An exception to the rule exists if; “a ‘special relationship’ with the plaintiff.” However, the type of “special relationship” must be found to be “[P]rotective by nature, requiring the defendant to guard his charge against harm from others.” According to Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts, the Fourth DCA found that “there was no recognized special relationship between the Merhiges and the plaintiffs that gave rise to a legal duty to protect them from Paul’s conduct. In general, family members owe no heightened obligations to protect other adult family members from each other.”

A second way that liability may be placed on a defendant for the injuries caused to the plaintiff by a third party is if the defendant “is in actual or constructive control of: (1) the instrumentality of the harm; (2) the premises upon which the tort is committed; or (3) the person who committed the tort.” To determine if a parent has control over their adult children the court referenced to their decision in Carney wherein they stated, “parents ‘may not be held legally liable for the conduct of their emancipated, adult child.’” Additionally, the court defines special relationships stating, “when ‘[o]ne . . . takes charge of a third person whom he knows or should know to be likely to cause bodily harm to other is not controlled.” “The ‘take charge’ requirement of section 319 has generally been limited to ‘the context of professional custodians with special competence to control the behavior of those in their charge.” This type of liability “has ‘typically been imposed on persons having someone committed to their legal custody, such as a jailer or superintendent of a residential institution which has the ability to control the actions of its residents.’”

In conclusion, based on the courts finding in this case and referenced cases it is believed that there is no liability that may be placed on a parent for the actions of their adult child. If you’ve experienced a moment where you’ve been held accountable for your adult child by a third party, you should seek immediate legal counsel. Our experienced attorneys are here and readily available to help. You can call (786) 827-6787 to schedule a consultation or email

*Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to be legal advice. We highly recommend speaking to an attorney if you have any legal concerns. Contacting us through our website does not establish an attorney-client relationship.*