Nearly every state has some form of a parental responsibility law, which can be used to hold a parent or legal guardian financially responsible when a minor child causes certain kinds of injuries or damage. Parents are not necessarily responsible for everything a minor children does -- far from it, in some states. Often, parental liability is limited to when the child does something intentionally or maliciously, although parents may also be on the financial hook for accidents, depending on the specifics of the statute in the state.
So, what do North Dakota's parental responsibility laws have to say? In this article, we'll outline some of the key points.
North Dakota's parental responsibility laws focus on two areas:
Note: The age of majority is defined differently from state to state. North Dakota, like most states, sets the age of majority at 18; so the laws discussed below apply only when a child is under the age of 18.
In North Dakota, parents can be held responsible if a minor (who is in their custody) maliciously or willfully destroys property (real or personal). So if a minor spray paints a fence, slashes some tires, throws a rock through a window, or engages in a friendly game of mailbox baseball; the parents are going to be financially liable for the property damages that result (up to a point).
Under N.D. Century Code section 32-03-39, individuals, or entities (including corporations, municipalities, and religious organizations) can bring a civil lawsuit directly against the minor's parents. In other words, the owner of the damaged property is entitled to recourse -- whether the owner is an individual or a legal entity.
Recovery is limited, however, to actual damages up to $1,000.00, plus court costs. "Actual damages" refers to the quantifiable losses that result from the minor's actions. Essentially, it is the cost to replace or repair the damaged property. It does not include non-economic losses such as pain and suffering. In other words, parents cannot be sued for non-economic damages, or for more than $1,000, under section 32-03-39.
In North Dakota, a parent or guardian of a minor must sign and verify the minor's application for a driver's permit or license. Under N.D. Century Code section 39-06-09, the person who signs the application will be jointly and severally liable along with the minor if the minor causes damages (including vehicle damage or bodily injuries) through negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
"Joint and several liability" means the parent and the minor can be held responsible for the damages individually or collectively. This may be important to both the injured party and the responsible parties (parent and child), because the injured party can demand that the parent and child collectively pay for the damages or that either of them be held completely responsible for losses stemming from a vehicle accident.
Even if a minor's actions fall outside the scope of the North Dakota statues we discussed above, a non-statutory set of traditional legal principles known as the "common law" may still hold parents accountable for the minor's actions.
For instance, if a parent knows his or her child engages in certain reckless behavior and has "dangerous propensities," the parent may be expected to take reasonable steps to prevent the child from causing foreseeable harm to other people as a result of that behavior.
Suppose a parent knows his or her child buys fireworks and lights them without taking any precaution for the safety of others. Clearly, the parent is on notice of the child's behavior; but the parent fails to do anything to stop it. If the child then causes an accident by recklessly lighting off fireworks, the parent could be considered negligent for failing to take reasonable steps to control the child's behavior. Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.