Under a parental responsibility law, parents and/or guardians may find themselves financially responsible for the damages their unemancipated minor children cause. In some states, parents are jointly liable only for a child's intentional and/or malicious acts. In other states, even an accident caused by a minor can trigger a parent's financial responsibility for resulting damages.
Minnesota has a number of laws that may be used to hold a parent liable for actions taken by a minor. Read on for the details.
Minnesota’s parental responsibility laws apply to the following kinds of actions taken by children:
Like most states, Minnesota sets the age of majority at 18. So these statutes only apply to the custodial parents/guardians of children who are under 18.
Under Minnesota Statutes section 540.18, if a minor willfully or maliciously causes property damage, or bodily injury, the parent or guardian the minor is living with will be liable along with the minor -- unless the adult has custody under the authority of Human Services, or the state.
Liability is joint and several, which means the injured party can collect from the parent/guardian and the minor collectively or individually. BUT the parent's financial liability is limited to $1,000, no matter how serious the injury or how significant the property damage caused by the minor. That's a pretty low ceiling.
Keep in mind that section 540.18 only applies to injuries and damage resulting from willful or malicious actions taken by the minor. That means this law can't be used to hold a parent liable when a minor causes a car accident or some other mishap as a result of mere carelessness or negligence. The minor must have acted purposefully, to some extent.
Bias offenses refer to criminal conduct that is directed toward someone because of their race, color, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or national origin. Minnesota Statutes section 611A.79 imposes liability on parents and guardians for bias offenses committed by minor children, up to $5,000, for all damages that result from the offense -- including injuries and medical expenses.
Liability may be excluded, however, if the parent or guardian made reasonable efforts to exercise control over the minor’s behavior.
Anyone, of course, can be held liable for stealing property. And in Minnesota, besides criminal sanctions, there is a financial penalty of $50, or 100 percent of the value of the stolen property, whichever is more, for every theft offense.
In addition to personal responsibility, Minnesota Statutes section 604.14 imposes financial liability on parents or guardians for thefts committed by their minor children. Liability is not limited under this section, so a parent/guardian can be held responsible for the total value of the stolen property.
Even in cases where Minnesota's parental responsibility laws do not apply, parents may still find themselves responsible for their children’s actions under the "common law," which is a set of principles that does not depend on state law or court decisions.
One "common law" authority known as the Restatement of Torts provides a good summary of a parent's legal obligations when it comes to their minor children:
"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, parents who know their child has a propensity to act recklessly or carelessly may, generally, be expected to take reasonable steps to prevent that child from causing foreseeable harm to others. Learn more about Negligence, the Duty of Care, and Fault for an Accident.