Most states have enacted their own version of a parental responsibility law. These are civil statutes that can be used to hold a parent or guardian financially liable when a minor child commits certain harmful acts. Oklahoma’s parental responsibility law is fairly limited in terms of the extent of a parent’s financial exposure, and the type of conduct that will trigger parental liability. Read on to learn the essential details of Oklahoma’s parental responsibility law.
When Does Oklahoma’s Parental Responsibility Law Apply?
You can find the full text of Oklahoma’s parental responsibility law at Oklahoma Statutes Title 23 section 23-10 (browse the official online version of the Oklahoma Statutes).
Under this law, parents can be held financially liable for certain harm caused by a minor when:
- the minor is under 18 years of age
- the minor is living with the parent at the time of the action
- the minor’s conduct amounts to a “criminal or delinquent act,” and
- the act results in bodily injury to a person, damage to real or personal property, or theft of property.
Section 23-10 allows any of the following entities to file a lawsuit seeking compensation from the parent or parents of the minor:
- any person
- any corporation
- any organization
- the state of Oklahoma, and
- any county, city, town, municipal corporation or school district in Oklahoma.
So, pretty much any person or organization that has been harmed by a minor’s conduct can bring an action under 23-10. But it’s important to emphasize that a parent can only be liable under section 23-10 when a minor “commits any criminal or delinquent act.” That means the minor’s action must rise to the level of criminal behavior as defined by Oklahoma’s criminal statutes. In other words, if the minor merely acts carelessly and ends up causing some kind of mishap (such as a car accident), that is not enough to trigger a parent’s liability under Oklahoma’s parental responsibility law. But the statute would apply to acts of vandalism, or when a minor commits an assault and battery.
What is the Dollar Limit of a Parent’s Liability Under Section 23-10?
This area of the statute sets clear financial limits. Let’s say a claimant sues a parent under section 23-10, and wins a court judgment holding the parent liable for medical bills or property damage resulting from the minor’s conduct. Section 23-10 specifically caps a parent’s financial liability at $2,500, so the claimant won’t be able to collect more than that amount from the parent.
Oklahoma Parents May Be Liable Beyond Section 23-10
Parental liability for a child’s actions may still exist in Oklahoma under traditional fault theories like negligence, beyond the scope of any statute.
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. This isn’t an easy case to prove against a parent, but the potential for liability is definitely there. (Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.)