Civil Responsibility: Answering for Mistakes

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Some actions can lead to civil responsibility rather than criminal responsibility.

What is civil responsibility? Civil responsibility means that you can be held responsible for some of your actions beginning as early as age seven. For example, if you break a window while playing baseball, you might have to pay for the repairs. You will not be excused just because you are not yet legally an adult.


The Rules of Civil Responsibility

The law says that you have a duty not to harm others. If you do harm someone else, you have to repair the damage.

So if you harm someone, that person can take you to court based on your civil responsibility and ask that you pay for the damage.

Three elements must be present for a person to be held responsible:

  1. fault
  2. damage (harm)
  3. a direct connection between the fault and the damage


1. Fault

The courts decide what types of fault can lead to civil responsibility. Here are some examples:

  • an action, which is something you've done
  • an omission, which means failing to do something
  • not following a rule, such as a law
  • negligence, which means being careless

To decide if you are at fault, your age and the circumstances will be taken into account. Your behaviour will be compared to that of a reasonable person in the same situation. So the law will compare your behaviour to that of a responsible person the same age as you, with the same knowledge as you. In the same situation, would that person have done what you did, or been more careful?

For example, if you damaged a garage door while escaping from a burning house, your actions will not be compared to a person who damaged a garage door while playing baseball.


2. Damage (harm)

In law, damage is also called harm. It is the damage caused by your fault, such as a loss of money, broken property or physical injury.

A person can take legal action for one of three types of damage:

  • Material damage is damage to property (such as a broken window) or damage that leads to a loss of money.

    Material damage is usually repaired through payment of money equal to the value of the property that was damaged. If the property can be repaired, the person at fault can pay the amount needed to repair it.

  • Bodily injury is physical injury to a person.

This type of damage is evaluated based on the cost of treating the injury. The amount of money that has to be paid can include loss of salary because the injured person cannot work, hospital bills, medication, etc. If the injury is permanent, the person who caused the damage might also have to pay an extra amount of money.

  • Moral damage is psychological injury.

This type of damage includes pain and suffering. Moral damage is more difficult to evaluate in terms of money. For example, what is the price of the stress caused by an upsetting event?


3. Direct Connection Between the Fault and the Damage

People don't want to be responsible for damage they did not cause!

Even if there is a fault and damage, the person taking legal action must still show a direct connection between the two. The direct connection is called a "causal link." Was the damage caused by a person's fault, or by something else? For example, Noémie was at fault for throwing a ball very hard at Daniel's face. The ball hit Daniel and broke his nose. If Noémie had not thrown the ball, Daniel would not have broken his nose. Noémie's fault (throwing the ball at Daniel) therefore caused Daniel's damage (a broken nose). As a result, Daniel could take legal action against Noémie to get her to pay for the harm she caused.  


Your Parents' Responsibility for Your Mistakes

Your parents can sometimes be held responsible for damage you cause. For example, parents can be held responsible if they leave children at home alone when the children are not old enough to be left unsupervised.

However, in their defence, parents can argue that they fulfilled their responsibilities as parents by taking good care of you, supervising you and educating you.  

Usually, the closer you are to adulthood, the more likely you are to be held responsible for your own actions.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.