Most states have passed some variation of a parental responsibility law. These are civil statutes that can be used to hold a parent or guardian financially liable when a minor child commits certain harmful acts. Depending on the specifics of the state's law, parents may even be on the financial hook when their children cause an accident and someone ends up getting injured.
In this article, we'll look at Missouri's parental responsibility law, including the kinds of conduct that will trigger a parent's liability under the statute, and the extent of a parent's financial exposure. Read on for the details.
Missouri's parental responsibility statute is found at Missouri Revised Statutes, Section 537.045. It describes, specifically, when parents or guardians can be held responsible for actions taken by minors who are within their custody, and what the financial consequences might be.
If a minor in Missouri 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. However, liability is limited to $2,000.
Note: Although owners of damages property can pursue compensation from a minor's parents under section 537.045, this does not mean they cannot also pursue damages from the minor. Only if any balance remains (above the $2,000) can the injured party pursue a claim against the minor for the cost of repairing or replacing the damaged property.
Parents and guardians (except foster parents) will be liable if a minor child in their custody has a judgment entered against them for purposely causing personal injury to another person. Again, the parent must be a named defendant in the lawsuit, and liability is limited to $2,000. Also, as with property damage, the injured party can pursue the minor for the balance beyond the $2,000 parental limit.
Keep in mind that this law does not apply to car accidents or other mishaps caused by the minor. The child must have intended to do what he or she did, to some measurable extent.
Missouri Revised Statutes, Section 537.045 has an interesting twist to it. Once judgment is entered against a minor for property damage or personal injury, the judge may order the parent or guardian, and the minor, to work for the property owner, or injured person, in lieu of payment. All parties must agree to this arrangement.
Even in cases where Missouri's parental responsibility laws do not apply, parents may find themselves on the financial hook for their children's actions. Non-statutory, general traditional principles of fault (known as the "common law") may impose additional parental liability in a more general sense.
A legal treatise often looked to by judges, the Restatement 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, parents who know their child has a propensity to act recklessly or carelessly 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 constantly talks or texts while driving, and the child has even received three citations for distracted driving. Despite all of that, the parent allows the child to continue to drive the family car, and makes no effort to restrict the child's use of his or her phone. You might say the parent was "on notice" of the child's dangerous propensities in that situation. So, if the child ends up causing an accident while talking or texting, the parent could be considered negligent for failing to prevent foreseeable harm. Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.