Parents are not always liable for their children – focus online

Spotted an Error?

If the little ones do something stupid, the parents are automatically liable – right? Not always. Because their duty of supervision is not limitless. Who can keep an eye on their child around the clock? FOCUS family clarifies common errors.

Everyone knows it, the typical sign on fences. "Parents are liable for their children," it is written in black and yellow. But that is not always true: the parents must be careful that their child does not enter a construction site.

In spite of all precautionary measures, however, if it is still on the site and causes damage, you cannot be held liable for it. Much more wearing the building contractor shares the responsibility for the damage caused by the child: he has his construction site not sufficiently secured.

Parents are only liable for their children if they have violated their duty to supervise (§ 832 BGB). But that doesn’t mean they have to monitor their children around the clock.

When exactly is the duty of supervision violated??

Exactly what falls under the duty of supervision depends on the age of the child, its character and the specific situation. The following applies: Smaller and correspondingly more dependent children require more stringent supervision than older and – presumably – more reasonable children.

According to a ruling by the Federal Court of Justice on March 24, 2009 (Az. VI ZR 51/08), children from the age of four are allowed to play outdoors without permanent supervision – for example on a playground, sports grounds or on a low-traffic street. An occasional check every 15 to 30 minutes is sufficient to monitor previously unremarkable children and to intervene if necessary.

Children aged seven to eight, on the other hand, can play outdoors or go to school without regular supervision. It is sufficient if parents "get an overview in broad outline".

In the negotiated case, a 5 year and 4 1/2 month old boy and his 7 year and 7 month old friend scratched a total of 17 cars with broken glass. The cars were parked in a parking lot belonging to the residential complex where the mother and her son live. The residential complex also includes a playground where the boy had played before the crime.

Parents can also sleep in on Sundays

The Potsdam District Court also found that parents cannot keep an eye on their children all the time. If the children start playing at six o’clock on Sunday morning, the legal guardians are still allowed to sleep and are not liable if something happens (Az .: 13 S 20/02). In the specific case, two children threw their toys out of the window onto a car parked in front of the house.

The owner had to bear the damage herself. So parents are not always liable for their children’s stupidities – a major legal error. And the children are not always guilty at all. The crucial question is: could the child recognize the danger himself??

Whether a minor child who is at least seven years old is liable for the damage caused depends on his ability to inspect – so it says in the Civil Code. Age sometimes plays a crucial role in this. Generally, a child is more liable the older it is.

In the video: bus driver saves the life of an unsupervised child

Under what conditions children are liable

They are not capable of tort up to the age of seven, i.e. they are not liable (Section 828 (1) BGB). Between the ages of seven and ten, they are not responsible for road traffic accidents (Section 828 (2) BGB). At the age of seven to 18 years they are (conditionally) capable of committing deliberate acts (Section 828 (3) BGB)

In a judgment of November 30, 2010, for example, the Cologne Higher Regional Court ruled: A ten-year-old boy is old enough to be able to estimate that his small straw fire could set the entire barn on fire on a riding facility. (Az. 24 U 155/09). The parents have therefore not violated their duty of supervision at the discretion of the court. The damages amounted to 737,000 euros. But the child has to pay – not the parents.

That would take us to the next mistake: just because children generally don’t have enough money to pay their debt out of their own pocket, parents don’t have to pay automatically. If a court has ordered the child to pay damages in its judgment, the young offender can be used for 30 years as soon as he earns money himself (§ 197 BGB).

The duty of supervision can be surrendered

Parents can also temporarily hand over their supervisory duties, for example to kindergarten or primary school. If something happens there, the facility pays for the damage and not the parents. However, this does not apply if the neighbor takes care of the children.

On the other hand, when the children surf the Internet and illegally download music, the parents are usually obliged to do so: as a connection holder, they have a duty of supervision.

However, the Federal Court of Justice ruled that parents are not automatically liable if they have previously instructed their children adequately and, for example, have prohibited participation in Internet exchanges..

The right insurance for the whole family

With private liability insurance, parents can prevent and protect their families against liability risks. The insurance covers the damage caused by children if the parents have violated their duty to supervise.

If this is not the case, however, the rules mentioned above apply – and the victim receives no compensation.

Check whether your liability tariff also applies to small children if you have a new family. The contract should contain a corresponding clause on “children under seven years of age unable to torture”.


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Christina Cherry
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