Most states have passed some form of a parental responsibility law, which makes parents and guardians civilly liable for certain acts committed by minor children. Maine’s version of this law is fairly limited in terms of the type of conduct that will trigger parental liability, and it also places a very low ceiling on the parent’s financial obligations to the claimant. Read on for the details.
You can find Maine’s parental responsibility law at Maine Revised Statutes Title 14 section 304. The statute applies when:
If all of those requirements are met, then the parent or legal guardian of the minor is jointly liable, along with the minor, for the costs of the resulting property damage or personal injury.
It’s important to understand that this law can only be used to hold a parent or guardian liable when a minor acts on purpose and/or with the clear intent to cause injury or damage. If a minor merely acts carelessly and causes an accident (such as a vehicle accident or a slip and fall), that is not enough to trigger a parent or guardian’s liability under section 304. But the statute would apply to acts of vandalism like graffiti, or if a minor commits an intentional tort like assault and battery.
This is where Maine’s parental responsibility law could get a little infuriating for someone who is harmed by a minor’s conduct -- while for a parent or guardian sued under the statute, it might make an adverse judgment sting a little less.
A claimant can go to the trouble of suing a minor’s parent or guardian under Title 14 section 304, and can win a court judgment saying that the parent is indeed liable for the injury or property damage caused by the minor. But the claimant won’t be able to collect more than $800, because Maine’s law caps a parent or guardian’s financial liability at that amount.
Maine’s parental responsibility law may not represent the limit of a parent or guardian’s potential liability for a minor child’s conduct in the state.
Liability for a child’s actions may still exist under traditional fault theories like negligence. Basically, a parent may be liable for any resulting harm if they know of their child’s dangerous tendencies, yet they fail to take reasonable steps to properly supervise the child, and someone ends up getting injured in a way that was foreseeable. (Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.)