Like a lot of states, Massachusetts has a parental responsibility law on the books that makes parents potentially liable for certain acts committed by their children. In this article we’ll discuss the key points of this law -- including when it applies, and what type of conduct is covered by the statute.
When Does the Massachusetts Law Apply?
You can find the Massachusetts parental responsibility law at Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 231 Section 85G. The law applies to the parents of an unemancipated child who is over the age of seven and under the age of 18. It does not apply to a parent who did not have legal custody of the child at the time the act was committed.
What Kind of Acts are Covered by the Massachusetts Law?
Section 85G makes a parent liable for any willful act committed by a child who is over age seven and under age 18, when the act results in someone else’s injury or death, or when it causes damage to someone else’s property. The key here is that the child’s action must be “willful” in order for the parent’s liability to arise under the statute. That means the law doesn’t apply to car accidents or other mishaps. The child must have intended to do what he or she did, to some measurable extent.
The statute specifies that covered conduct includes:
- damages resulting from the child’s commission of larceny or attempted larceny of property (i.e. shoplifting)
- damage done to cemetery property, and
- damage done to any state, county or municipal property (which could include graffiti and other forms of vandalism).
Is There a Limit on a Parent’s Liability Under Massachusetts Law?
Yes. Section 85G makes clear that a parent is only liable for “proved loss or damage” -- meaning actual damage, not non-economic damages like pain and suffering -- up to $5,000. Learn more about Damages in a Personal Injury Case.
Parents May Be Liable Beyond the Massachusetts Statute
It’s important to keep in mind that parental liability could arise in a number of other scenarios that fall outside the purview of this particular Massachusetts statute.
Parents can still be considered liable as a result of injuries caused by their child’s careless or intentional actions, under traditional “common law” principles of liability. For example, if a parent knows of a child's "dangerous propensity" -- a tendency to engage in a certain risky or careless behavior -- the parent could face a personal injury lawsuit for negligence if they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent the child from causing foreseeable harm. Learn more about Proving Fault for an Accident or Injury.