Most states have passed some form of parental responsibility law, which makes parents (and legal guardians) financially responsible when minor children take certain kinds of actions that end up causing harm or damage. In this article, we’ll discuss the main points of Montana’s parental responsibility law, which can apply when someone incurs property damage as a result of a minor’s conduct.
You can find Montana’s parental responsibility law online at Montana Code Annotated section 40-6-237.
Any individual and almost any non-business entity (governmental or otherwise) can pursue an action under Montana Code Annotated section 40-6-237. Specifically, the statute allows a civil lawsuit to be filed by the following kinds of property owners:
A parent’s financial liability can arise under Montana statute when a minor who is under the age of 18, and is living with the parent, “maliciously or willfully destroys property” destroys real or personal property owned by a person or entity described in the previous section.
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 40-6-237) 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 Montana, you can’t turn to this statue to sue the parents for damage to your car.
Like a lot of states, Montana has limited parents’ potential liability to incidents that cause property damage only (although parents’ liability may extend beyond the statute; more on this below).
A person or entity that pursues a claim under section 40-6-237 can only collect up to $6,900 in damages from the parent of the minor who caused the damage.
Montana 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 40-6-237. 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.
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.)