A parental responsibility law can be used to hold parents and/or guardians accountable for injuries or damages caused by minors. Some states make parents financially liable only when a minor child acts intentionally or maliciously. Other states extend parental liability to accidents caused by minors. There is often a financial cap on a parent's liability, and the amount of that cap also varies from state to state.
In this article, we'll examine Kentucky's parental responsibility laws, focusing on two main statutes:
Under Kentucky Rev. Stat. section 405.025, if a minor purposely marks, defaces, or otherwise damages property -- and has a judgment entered against them -- that minor's custodial parent(s) or guardian(s) will be liable for the judgment. In order to collect against the minor's parent or guardian, the property owner must name the parent or guardian as a defendant in a lawsuit against the minor.
Liability is limited, however, to $2,500 per judgment. If a minor is a repeat offender under this statute, the parent or guardian can only be liable for a cumulative amount of $10,000. Note: Although owners of wrongfully damaged property can pursue damages against a minor's parents, this does not preclude them from pursuing damages directly from the minor. For example, if the parent's liability is maxed out under the statute's cap, but a balance remains, the injured party can pursue a claim against the minor directly.
In Kentucky, a parent or guardian must sign a minor's application for a driver's license or permit. Under Kentucky Rev. Stat. section 186.590, the person who signs the application will be jointly liable -- along with the minor -- for any damages the minor causes while driving negligently, everything from a fender bender to a major vehicle accident. The parent/guardian can be relieved of liability, however, if the minor, or someone acting on the minor's behalf, deposits proof of financial responsibility, e.g. insurance or a bond.
Keep in mind that under this statute, any vehicle owner (not just a parent) who allows a minor to drive their vehicle could face liability if the minor causes property damage or bodily injury through negligent driving.
Even in situations where the Kentucky statutes we've discussed here do not apply, parents may still be held financially accountable for their children's actions. A set of traditional, non-statutory legal principles known as the "common law" may impose liability.
Specifically, a common law treatise called "The Restatement (Second) of Torts" provides: "A parent is under a duty to exercise reasonable care so as to control his minor child as to prevent it from intentionally harming others or from so conducting itself as to create an unreasonable risk of bodily harm to them, if the parent (a) knows or has reason to know that he has the ability to control his child, and (b) knows of or should know of the necessity and opportunity of exercising such control."
In other words, when parents know their child has a propensity to act recklessly or carelessly, the parents may be expected to take reasonable steps to prevent that child from causing foreseeable harm to others.
For example, imagine a parent knows his or her child is an inattentive driver who talks or texts on the cell phone incessantly while driving. In fact, the child has received three traffic citations for "distracted driving" in less than one year. Imagine further that, in spite of this knowledge, the parent allows the child to drive a vehicle, without making any attempt to limit the child's phone use. It's not an easy case to prove, but if the child ends up causing a car accident while talking or texting on the phone, the parent could be considered negligent and at least partially at fault for the resulting injuries and other damages. Learn more about Negligence, the Duty of Care, and Fault for an Accident.