Pay Attention to your Kids Playing on the Sidewalk

The BGH recently decided in two different cases that children must compensate for damage to parked vehicles (judgments of November 30, 2004 - VI ZR 335/03 and VI ZR 365/03). Read a quick summary.


A nine-year-old was racing with friends on his skateboard as he bumped into a car correctly parked on the street. Is this child responsible for this damage? The law reads that minors (aged 7 – 9) are not responsible for negligent damage they cause in an accident to a motor vehicle (§828 II 1 BGB). There has been controversial discussion thus far as to whether this rule applies to negligent damage to any motor vehicle, i.e. to parked cars or only to those in traffic. It has been discussed whether there must be an accident that children cannot be held liable. The Bundesgerichtshof has now decided that the rationale behind the legal provision is that a nine-year-old can be held responsible for damaging a parked car.

In other words, if your eight-year-old recklessly plays on the sidewalk and damages either a passing car or a parked car, you will have to open your wallet for recovery – if you have no private liability insurance. The law takes into account that children generally recognize dangers in motorized traffic at the age of ten, at the earliest, and will only be responsible for torts from that age on. Of course, age natural deficits to estimate distance, speed, etc. will be considered while deciding the merits of the case.

Generally, minors from the age of 7 upward are responsible for any deliberate damages. Responsibility for negligence will only be upheld if the child understood that what he did was wrong. Children under 7 are not responsible at all. So far, I have been considering only civil law, i.e. compensation for damages. Penal law rules that all minors under 14 are not subject to prosecution (§19 StGB). However, there are motions to change that provision so that minors will be punished in accordance with their ability to understand they have committed a criminal offense.

Published on the old CMS: 2006/8/2
Read on the old CMS till November 2008: 284 reads

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