I get called by the media every few weeks for an interview regarding a current story. On this particular day, I got a call from Beth Whitehouse, a reporter with Newsday in Long Island, NY. She got a letter from a reader saying “Without my knowledge, my 8-year-old daughter signed up for eBay and bid $700 for Hannah Montana paraphernalia. Worse yet, she won her bids! I e-mailed the seller explaining the situation, and he was furious. Am I legally responsible for this payment?“
In most cases, if nothing has been shipped; no harm, no foul — the seller can relist the goods, and generally, the parent is not responsible for a contract entered into by an 8-year-old.
But can a child younger than 18 be held to a legally binding contract? Can parents be held responsible for their children’s actions in such cases? My answer is a qualified “no.” If, indeed, the daughter, as an 8-year-old, read the conditions when she opened an eBay account, including the ones that say users must be at least 18 years old and that bidding enters them into a legally binding contract, and was given an eBay ID, that agreement could be voidable because she does not have the “capacity” to contract (she is a minor). However, if the 8-year-old signed on to the parent’s eBay account, with the parent’s permission (or perhaps they gave the daughter the user name and password), then the parent might be held accountable because the bidding was done under the parent’s name.
Sellers of children’s items should beware of such potential pitfalls. If you sell items that are attractive to children, there is a risk that you are going to get a kid bidding on the item.