January 26, 2011 § 3 Comments

When a child commits a tort, can the parents be held responsible to pay the damages?

MCA § 93-13-2 sets out the rules for when the parents of a minor will be held liable for the acts of the minor, and the limits on that liability.  Here are the principal points:

  • The statute states that “Any property owner …” may recover damages.  Does this limit the scope of the statute to actions for damage to property, or are personal injury claims included?  It would seem that damage to property is what was contemplated, since subsection (1) specifically refers to any act of the minor that ” … damages or destroys property belonging to such owner.”  Subsection (2) refers to ” … damages [not injuries] to [sic] which such minor or other person would otherwise be liable.
  • The limit of recovery is $5,000, plus “necessary court costs.”
  • The statute applies to minors under the age of 18 and over the age of 10.
  • The act of the minor must have been malicious and willful.  Purely negligent acts or mere carelessness are not included.
  • The statute does not apply to a parent whose “parental custody and control” have been removed by court order or decree.  Thus, where the child’s custody is awarded by court order to one parent, the non-custodial parent will not be subjected to liability.  This raises an interesting point when the child commits a maliciously destructive act while on visitation with the non-custodial parent, since visitation time is tantamount to custodial time.  Cox v. Moulds, 490 So.2d 866, 870 (Miss. 1986).  The language of the statute appears to hinge on the parental control, so that the parent who should be in control of the child at the time of the damage is the parent who will face liability.  When the child is placed by court order in the control of a non-parental guardian, that guardian will be the one to deal with the liability issue.
  • The statute does not limit any other recovery under any other applicable provision of law. 
  • The purpose of the law is both to authorize recovery from parents in situations where they would not otherwise be liable, and to limit their liability.

The act is in derogation of the common law, and therefore must be strictly construed.  I do not find any case law construing this statute or interpreting its applicability.

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