Parental Liability for Rampaging Monsters

Are parents legally liable for property damage caused by monsters summed to their city by their minor child? If parents can be sued for forest fires, can they be sued for fire-breathing monsters controlled by a child?

The Marvel mini-series Monsters Unleashed tells the story of Kei Kawade, an Inhuman child who can summon classic monsters by drawing them on a piece of paper. Kei’s art projects summoned creatures that rampaged in Atlanta and St. Louis, forcing his family to move [possibly to escape civil liability].

Parental liability for torts of a child did not exist under common law. As one California Court explained, “statutes imposing parental liability are therefore ‘in derogation of the common law,’ and the rule is that statutes which increase liability, or provide a remedy against a person who was not liable at common law are to be narrowly construed in favor of those sought to be subjected to them.” Curry v. Superior Court, 20 Cal. App. 4th 180, 183-84 (1993), citations omitted.

The amount of recovery for parental liability for the acts of a child varies state to state. In Georgia, parents with custody of a minor child are liable for the “willful or malicious acts” of their child up to $10,000 for reasonable medical expenses and/or property damage caused by a child’s rampage. The law specifically states:

Every parent or guardian having the custody and control over a minor child or children under the age of 18 shall be liable in an amount not to exceed $10,000.00 plus court costs for the willful or malicious acts of the minor child or children resulting in reasonable medical expenses to another, damage to the property of another, or both reasonable medical expenses and damage to property.

Ga. Code Ann. § 51-2-3(a).

Missouri has similar laws for parents whose children have caused personal injury or damaged property by “purposely marking upon, defacing or in any way damaging any property,” except that damages are limited to $2,000. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.045.

Kei’s early monster rampages were in Georgia and Missouri. Those states limit recovery for property damage to $10,000 and $2,000. By way of comparison, California’s limit for property damages is $25,000 under Cal Civ Code § 1714.1. That means those with property damage could sue Kei’s parents for up to the maximum amounts in Georgia and Missouri. While these laws were not meant to cover damages from a monster attack, the combined damages from multiple property owners could add up fast for the Kawades and their insurance company.

The issue in Georgia is whether Kei acted recklessly drawing a picture of a monster that then appeared and destroyed property. In one Georgia case, a mother was not liable where her unlicensed teenage son stole her car keys and got in an accident, because there was no evidence the son’s actions were reckless. Jackson v. Moore, 190 Ga. App. 329, 378 S.E.2d 726 (1989).

The monster-sized issue for liability is that Kawades knew their son was an Inhuman whose drawings summoned monsters. The act of drawing a picture is not willful or malicious, however, having the knowledge that said drawing would summon a monster would be willful conduct. While there is a strong defense that the first time a monster appeared was not foreseeable, the parents would know of the danger after the first incident. Allowing Kei to draw with that knowledge arguably is a willful and malicious act.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, the ABA Web 100 for Best Legal Blog and Podcast categories, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.