Damages Done by Children

Our neighbor’s 8-year-old son borrowed a toy and broke it. Should we make an issue of it? Are our neighbors obligated to pay us back?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Well, you should definitely tell the parents, since they should teach their children to be more careful with other people’s property.

In terms of paying back, technically, neither a child nor his parents have to pay for his damages. The Mishna (Baba Kama 8:4) states regarding children (below Bar/Bat Mitzvah) that “their contact is bad” – because if you damage them you’re obligated in compensation, while if they damage you they are exempt (since as minors, they are not responsible for their actions). Parents also have no technical obligation vis-à-vis their children’s damages – though it is nice if they do offer to pay.

If a child steals an item and the item still exists (unlike, say, if he steals candy and eats it or if he borrows something and breaks or loses it), the item must be returned since it still belongs to its original owner (Shulchan Aruch C.M. 349:3).

When a child grows up, it is considered meritorious for him to compensate all damages he did when he was a child, as part of his repentance (see Rashi to Bava Kama 98b s.v. “v’achpiyai”, Shulchan Aruch O.C. 343:1, Mishna Berurah 343:9).

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