Most state has some version of a parental responsibility law, through which a parent or legal guardian can be held responsible for damages their minor children cause. Parents are not necessarily liable for everything their children do, but they are often financially responsible if their child damages property or hurts someone intentionally or maliciously. In some cases, parents may even be responsible for harm their child accidentally causes.
Every state's law is different when it comes to covered conduct and the limits of financial responsibility, but parents (and legal guardians, among others) can be responsible for three different categories of damages caused by minor children:
This article focuses on key components of Colorado's parental responsibility laws.
Colorado has passed a number of laws that dictate when parents will be responsible for the actions of their children. Specifically, Colorado's Parental Responsibility Laws focus on two areas:
Under parental responsibility laws, parents and legal guardians are only responsible for the actions of their minor children. The age of minority is defined differently from state to state. Colorado, like most states, sets the age of majority at 18; so the laws discussed below apply only when a child is under the age of 18.
In Colorado, pursuant to Colorado Rev. Stat. Section 13-21-107, the parents of a minor living at home can be liable if the minor maliciously, or willfully, damages, or destroys, property (real or personal) belonging to another.
The parents can be liable to virtually any type of property owner imaginable, e.g. individuals, cities, school districts, corporations, religious organizations, etc.
The parents will be responsible for the actual amount of the damages, up to $3,500. In addition, the parents will be responsible for reimbursement of court costs and attorney fees paid by the property owner in bringing the matter to court.
Parents of minors living at home can also be responsible for bodily injuries their minor child knowingly causes (such as through intentional acts like assault and battery). As with property damage, parents are responsible for the actual amount of the injuries (up to $3,500), plus court costs and attorney fees.
$3,500 may not sound like much, but it can add up under certain circumstances. Parents may be liable to multiple persons or property owners. For instance, if a minor (or group of minors) vandalizes several cars, each car owner would be entitled to collect up to $3,500, plus costs and fees.
Under Colorado Rev. Stat. Section 13-21-107.5, if a minor is caught shoplifting, the minor's parents will be held financially responsible to the owner of the property. Liability will attach to the parents whether the minor takes property without paying for it or alters a price tag on the property.
In terms of what parents are responsible for, they have to pay for the actual damages, i.e. the value of the property. On top of that, parents may be subject to a penalty (payable to the property owner) of between $100 and $250.
Note: There is no limit on the amount of actual damages a property owner can recover against a minor's parents under the shoplifting statute (unlike the $3,500 limit on parental liability when a minor maliciously, or willfully, damages property or injures another).
Even if a minor's actions fall outside the scope of the laws outlined above, the common law may still hold parents accountable for the minor's actions. For instance, if a parent knows his or her child engages in certain activities in a careless, or reckless, manner; the parent may be considered negligent for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent the child from causing foreseeable harm.
For example, a parent may know from experience that their minor child tends to speed while driving a car. In spite of this knowledge, the parent freely allows the child to drive without any restrictions. If that child causes an accident because he or she was speeding, the parent may be responsible for resulting injuries and property damage.
For more information, check out our section on Accidents, Injuries, and Children.