Are parents responsible for damages their children cause to someone else’s property?

The Shulchan Aruch states that if one’s property is damaged by a minor – a girl below the age of 12 or a boy below the age of 13 – he has no legal recourse; he cannot make a claim against the child or his parents. Of course, the child’s parents can choose to act “Lifnim M’shurat Ha’din” (beyond the letter of the law) and voluntarily pay for the damage. Strictly speaking, however, they bear no obligation to pay for the damage caused by their child. The child, too, is not required to pay for the damages when he reaches Bar Mitzvah age. However, the Rama (a”h) states that upon reaching Bar Mitzvah age, the child should do Teshuvah and undertake measures of penitence to atone for the damage he caused as a minor.

In the case of an inordinately mischievous child who damages people’s property with unusual frequency, the local Bet Din can impose punitive measures upon the parents to force them to restrain their child and prevent him from causing damage. But if a normal child happens to cause damage to someone’s property, the parents do not bear liability.

A woman who causes property damage bears full liability, just like a man. However, if a wife causes damage and she has no assets of her own, the victim cannot claim compensation from her husband; a husband bears no responsibility for the damages caused by his wife. The victim in this case would have to wait until the wife receives her own money, such as if she receives an inheritance, or until the husband passes on or divorces the wife, at which point she receives the money guaranteed in the Ketubah.