When kids get hurt while they're in your care, parents might look to blame you for it. Even if it was an unavoidable accident. You can prevent yourself from getting sued as a babysitter by following the tips in this article.
Can a parent sue me as a babysitter? Yes, a parent can attempt to sue you as a babysitter if they think that you've been negligent and it has led to their child being harmed or injured. It's much more difficult for parents to sue you if you're a minor (under 18 years old,) but it's not impossible.
In this article, I'll explain why parents may sue you as a babysitter, what they have to prove to win their case, and more. Please note that this is not legal advice. If you are being sued by parents that you babysit for, you should consult a lawyer in your area.
Why Would Parents Want To Sue A Babysitter?
When a parent leaves their child with you, they expect that you'll keep them safe. So if their child gets hurt while in your care, they might be quick to point fingers and say that you're at fault.
It's doubtful that a parent will try to sue you for something minor, like their child scraping their knee. But they might consider suing if a severe accident occurs. Particularly if it's something that causes their child to end up in a wheelchair, become permanently disfigured, or otherwise have their quality of life seriously impacted.
Please read my article Be a Safe Babysitter! (Essential Safety Tips you Should Know) for safety tips that could prevent accidents that could lead to lawsuits.
Personal injury lawsuits from parents are more likely to occur in the United States than in the UK, Australia, Canada, or in most other countries. That's because in many other countries, the winner of the legal case is likely to be awarded much less in damages than they would in the US.
For example, in Canada, amounts awarded for pain and suffering are capped at $300,000. In the United States, lawsuits frequently end up with the losing party paying damages that measure in the millions of dollars.
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In the United States, this problem is further exacerbated by their private medical system. Parents in the US will likely have to pay out of pocket for any hospital visits due to injuries their child sustains. For example, a broken leg may cost as much as $30,000 to repair in the US, but under the NHS in the UK or under Canada's healthcare system, parents in the same situation may pay nothing at all.
If a parent does want to bring a personal injury claim against a babysitter, it's normally based on the idea of negligent supervision. This can happen either when a child is harmed because of improper care by their babysitter. Or even if the child unintentionally harms someone else and you don't intervene.
Anyone responsible for supervising a child can be found liable of negligent supervision. That includes babysitters, as well as parents, grandparents, teachers, daycare workers, camp counselors, and more. Even if you're just temporarily responsible for a child and not getting paid for it.
What Counts As Negligent Supervision?
To prove negligent supervision and win a lawsuit against you, a parent would need to prove that four separate elements are all true. In most cases, this is relatively straightforward. Below are the four criteria that will all need to be satisfied to prove negligence.
Did A Duty of Care Exist?
A duty of care means that as a babysitter, you had accepted a responsibility for the wellbeing and actions of the child you were left in charge of.
Parents may not explicitly say this to you. But it's societally accepted that when you're babysitting, you have a responsibility to keep their child from being harmed or doing unnecessary damage.
In the case of a babysitter, you know that you're responsible for protecting a child. It's your job description. So it would be very hard to argue in court that you don't have a duty of care for kids you babysit. This element is pretty much a given. Even if you deny it, a judge or jury will say that a reasonable person should have known they were responsible for a child they were supervising.
Can They Prove That The Duty of Care Was Breached?
While a duty of care existing between a babysitter and child is a given, proving that you actually breached that duty of care can be more difficult.
Chances are that any accident that happens while you're babysitting won't be caught on video. So ultimately it will come down to your testimony, versus what the child or parents say happened.
A duty of care is typically breached because you didn't give a child that you were babysitting the supervision and attention they deserved.
How much supervision kids need can take factors like their age into account. For infants and toddlers, it's likely assumed that you will be providing constant, uninterrupted supervision for them. There may be more leeway with older kids you're babysitting.
The nature of the accident could also have a significant impact on how easy it is to prove that a duty of care was breached too. If a child slips and falls, even the best babysitter might not be able to catch them or prevent it in time. But if a child injured themselves by playing with a chainsaw, it's more egregious of an incident that provides strong evidence that you weren't watching them closely enough.
Generally the more time it would take for a child to get themselves into trouble in a particular situation, the stronger the evidence is that you were being negligent.
Of course specific situations have a higher duty of care. If you're around a swimming pool or at the beach, it's expected that you'd be providing a higher level of care to prevent kids from drowning or getting hurt.
Check out the safety section of my article Babysitting at the Pool (What to Bring, Games to Play & Water Safety Tips) for some additional points to keep in mind around water.
Did The Breach of Care Cause An Injury?
Negligent supervision means that your actions as a babysitter caused the injury to happen. It doesn't matter if you classify it as an accident or not. The main determining factor is if the injury was considered "foreseeable" and that you should have done more to prevent the child from getting injured.
For example, a child slipping on ice could be considered an accident. But if you're babysitting, you should be able to reasonably foresee that ice presents a slip and fall hazard. And a prudent babysitter would take additional steps to protect a child. Such as putting out rock salt to melt the ice, giving the child suitable footwear, or not allowing them to play in icy areas at all.
Proving causation is often even more difficult than proving a breach in the duty of care occurred. While it might be easy to see what actions or inactions led to an injury after the fact, hindsight is often 20/20. What seems obvious after the fact may not have been apparent in the moment. A judge will normally take into consideration what a reasonable, prudent person would have been expected to do in the same situation.
Did The Child's Injury Lead To Substantial Harm?
This last element of negligent supervision is normally pretty easy to prove.
If a child was physically harmed, parents can point to x-rays of broken bones, reports from doctors, photographs, and other evidence that they were seriously injured.
If the child's injury led to financial harm, this is often also easy to prove using receipts and invoices for medical procedures, physiotherapy, etc. If a child becomes paralyzed or suffers brain damage, parents could also argue for lost wages for the rest of the child's life.
Emotional harm also needs to be taken into account. In some cases of negligence, a child might not be physically hurt. But they could still have been traumatized and now have PTSD or other mental health conditions. Emotional harm is harder to prove than physical or financial damages, and will usually rely on the testimony of a psychiatrist or other expert in the field.
Don't let kids you're babysitting get burned. Read my article Fire Safety Tips For Babysitters (Emergency Measures & Prevention) to learn more.
Common Examples of Negligent Supervision
- Not securing dangerous objects like chemicals, knives, or weapons out of reach.
- Not protecting a child from safety threats like pools, open windows, or busy traffic.
- Not protecting a child from emotional or physical harm caused by an animal, another child, or any other threat.
- Improper care of a child that is sick or injured.
- Children injured while not wearing a seatbelt or properly secured in a car seat, or being left unsupervised in a hot car.
It is possible for parents to sue a babysitter. Most commonly they will sue for negligent supervision if their child is seriously injured while in your care.
You shouldn't be overly worried about lawsuits as a babysitter though. As long as you're doing your best to supervise and protect the children in your care, it's doubtful that you would be found negligent. Even in the case where an accident occurs and a child is injured under your watch.
This article shouldn't be taken as legal advice. Laws can vary from place to place. If you are being sued or concerned about being sued, make an appointment to speak with a lawyer in your area.
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