Should Parents Be Held Liable for Their Children’s Behavior?
Missouri parents Mark and Karen McDermott were aware that their son’s violent outbursts at school had resulted in injuries to others, yet they chose not to take preventative measure — such as hospitalization, mood-altering medications, counseling, or behavior modification training — to protect those who came in contact with their son at the school.
Then one day in his special education classroom, the McDermotts’ son attacked teacher’s assistant Desiree Ridgell, wrestling her to the floor and causing her to sustain a head injury. On April 15, 2014, a Missouri district court held that Ridgell had a cause of action for negligent parental supervision against the boy’s parents, even though they weren’t even at the school when the incident took place.
Holding Parents Accountable
Parental liability refers to a parent’s obligation to pay for damage caused by the negligent, intentional, or criminal acts caused by their child. Parental liability begins when the child reaches an age between 8 and 10, and ends when the child reaches the age of majority — 18 in Colorado. Many of these acts can result in both civil and criminal penalties.
In 1903, Colorado became the first state to establish the crime of contributing to the delinquency of a minor (CDM), a law that holds parents criminally responsible for the delinquent acts of their children. The legislation grew in popularity, and since the enactment of the CDM law in Colorado, 42 states and the District of Columbia have passed similar parental responsibility laws. Currently, all states but New Hampshire and New York have laws that hold parents civilly responsible for crimes committed by their children, and several states, including Colorado, have enacted legislation that requires parents and children to participate in community services activities after the youth have been in trouble with the law.
Colorado’s Parental Responsibility Laws
Since that original 1903 CDM law, Colorado has passed a number of laws that dictate when parents will be responsible for the acts of their minor children. Some of the misdeeds of a child covered under these laws include:
- Property damage — In Colorado, the parents of a minor living at home can be held liable if the minor maliciously or willfully damages or destroys the personal or real property belonging to another person. Under Colorado Rev. Stat. Section 13-21-107, parents can be liable to individuals, cities, school districts, corporation, religious organizations, and many other types of property owners for damages up to $3,500 plus court costs and the attorney fees of the property owner.
- Bodily injury — Parents can also be held responsible for bodily injuries that their minor child knowingly causes, such as assault and battery. If found liable, parents will be responsible for the actual amount of injures, up to $3,500, plus court costs and attorney fees.
- Shoplifting — Under Colorado Rev. Stat. Section 13-21-107.5, if a minor child is arrested for shoplifting, the parents will be held financially responsible to the owner of the property for the value of the stolen items, along with a penalty between $100 and $250, payable to the property owner.
- Negligence — Even if a minor’s actions fall outside the scope of those described above, if a parent knows that his child engages in certain activities in a careless or reckless manner — for example, speeding or texting while driving — the parent may be found negligent for failing to take responsible steps to prevent his child from causing foreseeable harm.
Do Parental Responsibility Laws Work?
No known study has been done to support the claim that parental responsibility laws have an impact on youth crime, and there is little or no evidence that punishing parents curbs juvenile delinquency. From the victim’s standpoint, someone should be responsible for the damage that minors do, but some experts believe that such laws may actually create more problems than they solve.
Image by Chez Eskay