Most states have some version of a parental responsibility law on the books. These statutes can be used to hold a parent or guardian financially liable for the acts of minor children, although the specifics vary from state to state when it comes to the type of conduct that will trigger parental liability (and the extent of a parent’s financial exposure). In this article, we’ll discuss the important details of Oregon’s parental responsibility law.
When Does Oregon’s Parental Responsibility Law Apply?
You can find the full text of Oregon’s parental responsibility law at Oregon Revised Statutes section 30.765.
Under this law, a parent can be held financially liable for certain injuries or property damage caused by a minor child when:
- the minor is under the age of 18 and is “unemancipated”
- the minor’s action causes damage to property or harm to a person, and
- the minor “intentionally or recklessly” committed the act that led to the harm.
In Oregon, any person or any legal entity (including an individual, business, or any other organization) that has been harmed by a minor’s action may file a lawsuit seeking compensation from the parent. But section 30.765 cannot be used to seek compensation from a parent who is not entitled to legal custody of the minor child at the time the act was committed, and foster parents are also specifically exempted from liability. (There is also a cap on a parent's financial liability, which we’ll cover in the next section).
It’s important to emphasize that a parent is only liable under section 30.765 when a minor acts “intentionally or recklessly.” That is an elevated standard which requires the minor to act purposefully, or with clear disregard for possibly detrimental consequences. In other words, if the minor merely acts carelessly and ends up causing some kind of accident (including a car accident), that is not enough to trigger a parent’s liability under Oregon’s parental responsibility law. However, the statute would apply if a minor commits vandalism or an assault and battery.
What is the Dollar Limit of a Parent’s Liability Under Section 30.765?
Oregon Revised Statutes section 30.765 specifically caps a parent’s financial liability at $7,500 in “actual damages,” so the claimant won’t be able to recover more than that amount from the parent, no matter how much damage or harm resulted from the minor’s actions.
"Actual damages" means only quantifiable losses stemming from the minor's actions, including payment of medical bills resulting from personal injuries, and the costs of repairing or replacing damaged property. But "actual damages" excludes non-economic losses like pain and suffering, which can really add up in a lawsuit over serious injuries. So, not only is there a $7,500 cap on a parent’s liability for damages under section 30.765, there is also a limit on the type of damages you can recover.
Oregon Parents and Guardians May Be Liable Beyond Section 30.765
In Oregon, parental liability for a child’s actions may still exist under traditional fault theories like negligence, regardless of what section 30.765
Though it isn’t the easiest case to make, a parent may be liable for any resulting harm (including personal injuries and property damage) 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 suffering foreseeable harm.
For example, if a parent knows that their 16 year- old child constantly texts while driving -- let’s say the child has accumulated four citations for distracted driving in six months -- but the parent makes no effort to restrict the teen’s driving or curb phone use, the parent may be considered negligent if the teen ends up causing a car accident while texting behind the wheel. (Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.)