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Law Matters: Parents' Liability for their Children's Actions - legal advice - The Hague Online
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Law Matters

Law Matters: Parents' Liability for their Children's Actions

(18 June 2006)

The playground where Justin (6 years) and Monica (9 years) often played was covered underneath a big white blanket of fluffy snow. A few children, including Justin and Monica, gathered in and around the playground to have an old-fashioned snow fight. It all started out as great fun until Justin decided to throw a couple of snowballs at Monica�s head. Monica didn�t enjoy this so she asked Justin to stop, warning him that people could get hurt. Justin didn�t listen and continued throwing the snowballs. Moments later he hit Monica right in the face. Quite upset, she walked up to Justin, grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and pushed him backwards. She meant to just make him stop, but as Justin was not able to keep his balance he fell, hitting his head hard on the ground. Because of this fall he suffered a severe trauma to his head. The question that the Hoge Raad (the Dutch Supreme Court) had to answer in 2005 was: Is Monica and/or are her parents liable for the harm that was done to Justin?


The answer to this question is both no and yes. In Dutch law (article 6:169 Civil Code) children under the age of 14 are not liable for the damage they have caused to others. The liability therefore is automatically set to their parents making them ultimately fully responsible for their children�s actions. This is the so called �risk liability�. The only question that needs to be answered in cases like this is whether or not Monica�s actions would have been just as unlawful had she been an adult at the time. Only if the answer to this question is positive the parents are fully responsible and thus liable.


The Hoge Raad in this case actually did answer this question with a yes. Monica�s reaction to Justin throwing his snowball in her face was not judged by the Hoge Raad to be a common one, nor one that Justin, all things considered, needed to expect. The Hoge Raad also concluded that there was no unfortunate combination of events that could exonerate Monica. What this case law therefore shows is, that parents are practically always liable for the actions of their children under the age of 14, even if these actions seem to be rather innocent.


For more information contact GMW Attorneys at Law




Martijn Hoogstraten LLM

Attorney at Law





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