Most states have passed some type of parental responsibility law, which makes parents and guardians financially responsible for certain actions taken by minor children. In this article, we’ll dissect the main points of Arkansas’s parental responsibility law, for parents and for anyone who might have incurred property damage as a result of a minor’s conduct in the state.
You can find the Arkansas parental responsibility law at Arkansas Code section 9-25-102 (note: this link takes you to the main page for the Arkansas code; you’ll need to navigate through to Title 9, Subtitle 3, Chapter 25.)
Any individual and almost any business or entity can pursue an action under Arkansas Code section 9-25-102. Specifically, the statute allows a civil lawsuit to be filed by the following owners of real and/or personal property that has been damaged by a minor:
A parent or guardian’s financial liability can arise under the Arkansas statute when a minor who is under the age of 18, and is living with the parent or guardian, “maliciously or willfully” destroys, damages, or defaces real or personal property.
It’s important to distinguish the kind of conduct that is not covered by this law. Parents will not be on the financial hook (at least not under section 9-25-102) for property damage resulting from accidents caused by a minor child. So, if you get into a car accident with a 16- or 17-year-old driver in Arkansas, you can’t turn to this statute to sue the parents for damage to your car. The minor must have acted intentionally, to some extent, in causing the damage.
Note: Section 9-25-102 specifically does not apply when a minor who is under 13 defaces property with graffiti.
Like a lot of states, Arkansas has limited parents’ potential liability to incidents that cause property damage only (although parents’ liability may extend beyond the statute; more on this below). And a person or entity that pursues a claim under section 9-25-102 can only collect up to $5,000 in damages from the parent or guardian of the minor who caused the damage.
Arkansas parents should not assume that they are free and clear from civil liability as long as their child’s actions fall outside of what is covered by section 9-25-102. Parents can still be considered liable -- and could face a personal injury lawsuit stemming from their child’s conduct -- under traditional “common law” principles of liability.
For example, if an Arkansas parent knows that their child has a propensity to engage in certain reckless or careless conduct, that parent may have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the child from causing foreseeable harm to others. Learn more about Accidents and Injuries Involving Children.