Texas recognizes several types of liability that may be imposed on family members for acts of other family members. A spouse can be liable for the acts of the other spouse when there is an agency relationship between the spouses or when a spouse incurs a debt for necessaries. With respect to children, as general rule, children are liable for their own actions. However, parents may be held liable for the acts of their children if:
- There is an employer-employee relationship between the parent and the child;
- The parent and child were engaged in a joint enterprise;
- The parent is liable under Chapter 41.001 of the Texas Family Code; or
- The parent is liable under a contract for necessaries.
Proof of an agency relationship between spouses requires a showing that one spouse intentionally conferred authority on the other spouse to act as an agent; one spouse intentionally allowed the other spouse to believe he/she had authority to act as an agent or, through lack of due care, one spouse allowed the other spouse to believe he/she had authority. An agent has authority to act on behalf of another when the principle has granted the agent authority to act and there is a meeting of the minds as to the nature of the relationship. The marriage relationship alone is not sufficient to establish that one spouse was acting as the agent of the other.
A spouse can be held personally liable for the acts of the other spouse when the spouse incurs a debt for necessaries. To be “necessary” the item must be generally necessary given the spouse’s standing in life. Necessaries typically include food, clothing, and shelter. Other items may be considered necessaries depending on the circumstances. For example in Gabel v. Blackburn Operating Corp., 442 S.W.2d. 818 (Tex. App. – Amarillo 1969, no writ) the court found that cosmetics were necessaries and in Jarvis v. Jenkins, 417 S.W. 2d. 383 (Tex-App.-Waco 1967, no writ) an airline ticket to visit a sick relative was found to be a necessary. However, whether a particular item is a necessary is usually determined on a case-by-case basis depending on the facts and circumstances of the individuals involved so there is no definite test to determine what is a necessary.
A parent can be held liable for the acts of a child upon proof of an employer-employee relationship. This type of liability is known as Respondeat Superior. In addition to the employer relationship it must be shown that the child committed the act in the scope of the employment and for the accomplishment of the object for which the child was hired.
A parent can also be held liable upon proof of a joint enterprise between the parent and child. A joint enterprise exists if there is an agreement between the parent and child to carry out a common purpose, both the parent and the child have a joint interest in the purpose and both the parent and child have an equal right to direct and control the enterprise. The right to control limited aspects of the enterprise may not be sufficient to establish liability. Also, if one party has overriding control over the other, there can be no joint enterprise.
To establish liability under Section 41.001 of the Texas Family Code, the plaintiff must prove he/she suffered property damage as a result of the conduct of the child. A parent cannot be held liable under this statute if the child’s acts resulted in personal injury or pure economic loss, such as the improper withdrawal of funds from a bank account. The plaintiff must also prove that the property damage was cause by the parents’ negligence in exercising the duty to control and reasonably discipline their child or by the child’s intentional conduct. In the case of intentional conduct, the parent is strictly liable for the property damage if the child is between the ages of ten to eighteen years. However, pursuant to Section 41.002 of the Texas Family Code the recovery of damages for intentional conduct of the child is limited to $25,000.00 per occurrence plus court costs and attorneys fees.
A parent can be held liable to any person, including the other parent, who provides for the child’s necessaries. When a person other than a parent provides necessaries to the child, the law implies a contract between the person and the child. A parent can be held liable on this contract if it is shown that the parent did not discharge their duty to support the child. However, a parent will not be liable on this implied contract if the parent can show that he/she provided the child with all necessary support.