Like a lot of states, Michigan has passed a law that makes parents civilly liable for certain actions taken by their children. Michigan’s “parental responsibility” law isn’t quite as far-reaching as those in place in other states, but it’s important for parents (and others) to understand when the law does and does not apply.
Michigan’s parental responsibility law (which you’ll find at Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.2913) can apply to hold a parent liable when an unemancipated minor, who still lives with his or her parent, has “maliciously or wilfully destroyed real, personal, or mixed property” or has “maliciously or wilfully caused bodily harm or injury to a person.”
It’s important to differentiate “malicious or willful” conduct (which is covered by this statute) from mere carelessness or negligence (which is not covered). Section 600.2913 can only be used to hold a parent liable when a child does something on purpose and/or with the clear intent to do harm.
So, while the statute would apply to an intentional tort like assault, or to acts of vandalism, it would not apply to an accident or to some other type of mishap where the minor didn’t act intentionally. Some states make a parent jointly liable when a minor causes a car accident, for example. Michigan’s parental responsibility law does not go that far.
In Michigan, the injured or otherwise harmed party can be almost any person or entity you can think of, as the statute states: “a municipal corporation, county, township, village, school district, department of the state, person, partnership, corporation, association, or an incorporated or unincorporated religious organization.”
So, any one of these kinds of individuals or organizations can bring a lawsuit against a parent under Michigan’s parental responsibility law, if they were harmed by a minor’s “willful” or “malicious” actions.
Compared with other states, Michigan places a pretty strict limit on parents’ civil liability for their children’s actions. The law says that any person or entity bringing a civil lawsuit under MCL section 600.2913 “may recover damages in an amount not to exceed $2,500.”
The civil statute we’ve discussed here may not be the limit of a parent or guardian’s potential liability for a minor child’s conduct in Michigan. Parents may still be considered civilly liable for their child’s actions under traditional fault theories like negligence. Basically, a parent may be liable for any resulting harm if they know or should know of a child’s dangerous tendencies, yet they fail to take reasonable steps to control the child and/or prevent harm from coming to others. (Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.)