The recent shootings in the nation's schools have highlighted the responsibilities of parents for their children's criminal actions. Aside from the extremely painful consequences for children who commit criminal acts using guns, parents may also be found liable for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent their children from obtaining guns.
Q: We keep a registered gun in our house for protection. Can we be held liable if one of our children finds the gun and harms someone else?
A: Under two Ohio statutes (Ohio Revised Code Sections 3109.09 and 3109.10), parents can be held liable for the intentional criminal acts of their children that cause personal injury or death to another, and for acts such as theft or vandalism that cause loss or damage. According to current law, the statutory limit for liability is $10,000 plus the costs of the legal action. The improper or illegal use of a gun by a child that causes injury or death would be covered by the parental liability statute. If the parent or custodian is careless (negligent) in storing a gun, or permits the child to have access to it, the parent can be held liable for negligence in failing to properly secure the weapon or simply permitting the child to have access to it. Civil liability is but one of two possible consequences to parents if a child improperly uses a gun.
Parents may also be criminally liable for such actions in Ohio. State laws prohibit an adult from contributing to the delinquency or neglect of a minor, and other statutes prohibit adults from furnishing firearms to minors except for legitimate sporting purposes such as hunting. Also, some local communities have enacted city ordinances that impose criminal liability on parents for failing to properly secure a firearm in a manner that is reasonably calculated to prevent a minor from obtaining possession of the weapon. Crime classifications for violation of these statutes range from a first degree misdemeanor to a fifth-degree felony, and fines and jail terms may be imposed as sanctions.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by Dick Graham, a magistrate for the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court.