There is some version of a parental responsibility law on the books in most states. These are civil statutes through which a parent or guardian can be held financially liable for certain acts committed by minor children. Wyoming’s parental responsibility law is fairly limited in both the type of conduct that will trigger parental liability, and the extent of a parent’s financial exposure. Read on for the important details.
You can find the full text of Wyoming’s parental responsibility law at Wyoming Statutes section 14-2-203.
Under this law, a property owner can hold a parent financially liable for certain property damage caused by a minor child when:
The statute does not limit the type of property owner that is allowed to make a claim. So, any person or any legal entity in Wyoming (an individual, business, or any other organization) may file a lawsuit seeking compensation from the parent of a minor who has damaged or destroyed property. Note: Section 14-2-203 specifically does not apply to parents “whose parental custody and control of the child had been terminated by court order prior to the destructive act.”
It’s important to emphasize that a parent is only liable under section 14-2-203 when a minor acts “maliciously and willfully.” That’s a pretty high standard. At the very least, it means the minor must have intended to do the thing he or she did. 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 Wyoming’s parental responsibility law. But the statute would apply to acts of vandalism, or when a minor commits an assault and battery.
The bad news for a harmed property owner is that the statute sets clear financial limits. Let’s say a claimant sues a parent under section 14-2-203, and wins a court judgment holding the parent liable for medical bills or property damage resulting from the minor’s conduct. Section 14-2-203 specifically caps a parent’s financial liability at $2,000 in “actual damages,” so the claimant won’t be able to collect more than that amount from the parent (although the parent will also be liable for the property owner’s costs of bringing the matter to court).
"Actual damages" means all quantifiable losses stemming from the minor's actions, including payment of medical bills and lost income for personal injuries, and payment to replace or repair 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 $2,000 damage cap in Wyoming, there is also a limit on the type of damages you can recover from a parent.
In Wyoming, parental liability for a child’s actions may still exist under traditional fault theories like negligence, regardless of what section 14-2-203 says.
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. (Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.)