For Civil Recovery The Age Of Majority Is Not Always Eighteen

Posted by on Jan 6, 2012 in Legal Corner | Comments Off on For Civil Recovery The Age Of Majority Is Not Always Eighteen

In the United States and its territories, other than laws concerning consumption of alcohol, most people believe that once a person reaches eighteen years of age, provided they do not otherwise suffer from some legal incapacity or disability, that the person is considered an adult and is legally responsible for his or her own actions. As parents, many of us long for this day of being free from legal responsibilities of parenthood, even if it comes with some mixed feelings of whether your children can really fend for themselves, as many believe the magical age of 18 puts an end to being held legally responsible for the negligent or tortious acts of our child(ren). However, this may be an incorrect assumption when it comes to civil liability for theft from retailers by minors (i.e. “civil recovery liability”) and possibly other civil matters as parental/guardian liability for the negligent or tortious acts of minors is controlled by state law. 

Florida follows a somewhat traditional approach.  In Florida, “The disability of non-age is hereby removed for all persons in this state who are 18 years of age or older, and they shall enjoy and suffer the rights, privileges, and obligations of all persons…”[1] Further, “[t]he word “minor” includes any person who has not attained the age of 18 years.”[2] Florida’s civil recovery statute states, “Any person who has a cause of action under this section may recover the damages allowed under this section from the parents or legal guardian of any unemancipated minor who lives with his or her parents or legal guardian and who is liable for damages under this section.”[3] Based on the reading of the above-referenced statutes, the meaning is clear that, in Florida, there is parental/guardian liability for a violation of the statute by a person who has not attained the age of eighteen or been otherwise emancipated. The wording of Florida’s statute “.  .  . unemancipated minor who lives with his or his parents or legal guardian and who is liable for damages . . .” seems to indicate that a Florida minor who has committed theft has civil liability as well.[4]  While a form of parental/guardian liability exists in the majority of states, not all states in the United States or its territories follow this general rule.

For example, Puerto Rico has enlarged its age of majority.  In Puerto Rico, “Majority begins at the age of twenty-one years.”[5] Parental liability statutes in Puerto Rico go further by setting forth the actual persons legally responsible for the tortious and negligent acts their child. “The father, and, in the event of his death or incapacitation, the mother, is liable for the damage caused by the minor children living with them.” Further, “Guardians are liable for the damages caused by minors or incapacitated persons who are under their authority and live with them.”[6]

In Alabama, “Parents or legal guardians of an unemancipated minor under the age of 19 shall be liable in a civil action for the minor who commits or attempts to commit a theft of property consisting of goods for sale on the premises of a merchant…”[7] While Alabama increases the traditional age of majority for parental/guardian liability under its civil recovery statute to include people who have not yet attained the age of nineteen years, Nebraska and Vermont reduces the traditional age of majority regarding civil recovery. For example, in Nebraska, “[a] minor shall mean any individual under seventeen years of age.”[8] In Vermont, “Any person over the age of 16 years or any emancipated minor who commits the offense of retail theft against a retail mercantile establishment in violation of section 2575 of this title shall be civilly liable to the retail mercantile establishment…”[9]   However, in Vermont, there is no parental/guardian liability for unemancipated minors of 16 years of age or younger.[10]

Therefore, it is important to be cognizant of the age of majority for the state where a shoplifter or dishonest employee commits theft so that any applicable civil recovery/civil restitution settlement offers may be directed to the proper party. Furthermore, several states’ civil recovery statutes have no parental/guardian liability; however, settlement offers in those states may sometimes be addressed directly to the minor directly or to the minor in care of the Parent/Guardian.   Also, instead of both parental/guardian liability, some states’ civil recovery statutes only confer parental liability and remove guardian liability. Lastly, a few other states’ civil recovery statutes implement liability on the parent/guardian but only when they knew or should have known of the minor’s propensity to commit a larceny. Therefore, it is important to have your demand letters reviewed by attorneys and have your legal department “sign off” on any demand letters you send or have sent on your behalf.                


[1] Fla. Stat. Ann. § 743.07(1)
[2] Fla. Stat. Ann. § 1.01(13)
[3] Fla. Stat. Ann. § 772.11(1)
[4] Fla. Stat. Ann. § 772.11(1)
[5] P.R. Laws Ann. tit.31 § 971
[6] P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31 § 5142
[7] Ala. Code § 6-5-271(b) (Emphasis added.)
[8] Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-21,194
[9] Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 13 § 2579
[10] Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 13§ 2579

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