There is some form of a parental responsibility law on the books in most states. These statutes hold parents and guardians legally liable (at least financially) for certain actions taken by minor children. In the sections that follow, we’ll discuss the important points of Kansas’s parental responsibility law, which applies to certain personal injuries or property damage caused by a minor child. You can find the full text of the Kansas parental responsibility law at Kansas Statutes section 38-120.
A parent’s financial liability can arise under the Kansas statute when a minor who is under the age of 18, and is living with his or her parent (s), “maliciously or willfully” injures a person and/or damages or destroys someone else’s property.
It’s important to differentiate the kind of conduct that is not covered by this law. Parents will not be on the financial hook (at least not under section 38-120) in Kansas for any injuries or property damage stemming from a minor child’s careless behavior that ends up causing an accident. So, if you get into a car crash that was caused by a 17-year-old driver, you can’t turn to section 38-120 to sue the minor’s parents for your medical bills or the damage to your car. The minor must have acted intentionally, to some extent, in causing the damage.
Like a lot of states, Kansas has limited parents’ potential liability in terms of the kind of conduct that is covered (which we covered in the previous section), and the amount of financial exposure the parents can face.
Section 38-120 specifies that “recovery shall be limited to the actual damages in an amount not to exceed $5,000, in addition to taxable court costs, unless the court or jury finds that the malicious or willful act of such minor causing such injury, damage or destruction is the result of parental neglect, in which event the $5,000 limitation does not apply.”
So, unless the injury or damage caused by the minor can be tied at least in part to the parent’s own negligence, the injured party can only collect $5,000 from the minor’s parents -- although keep in mind that the parents’ liability may extend beyond the statute; more on this in the next section.
Also, section 38-120 makes clear that an injured person’s damages will be limited to medical expenses only. In other words, an injured person would not be able to collect non-economic damages from the parent or guardian. That means no compensation for “pain and suffering” damages, which can really add up in a civil lawsuit where the plaintiff suffered significant injury. Learn more about Different Types of Damages in a Personal Injury Case.
Kansas 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 38-120. 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.
For example, when parents know that their child has a propensity to engage in certain dangerous or reckless conduct, the law may impose a legal duty on the parents, requiring them to take reasonable steps to prevent the child from causing foreseeable harm to others. Learn more about Accidents and Injuries Involving Children.