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Overview of Missouri’s Parental Responsibility Laws
Nearly every state in the country recognizes some form of parental responsibility laws. The laws give harmed individuals the ability to hold a parent liable for all or some of a child’s damaging acts. In some states, a plaintiff can hold parents liable for the full amount of damages. Other states limit liability to a certain dollar amount. If the state enforces the law, some parents may face legal liability for any behavior they should have reasonably known about or prevented.
Missouri’s Parental Responsibility Laws
In Missouri, a plaintiff can hold a parent responsible for property damage, malicious acts that cause injury, or for a minor’s illegal driving. Under state laws, minors include all unemancipated children under the age of 18. The courts can demand parents of a minor under age 18 to pay up to $2,000 in damages. If the total damage exceeds that amount, a plaintiff can then name a minor in a liability suit and ask for further compensation.
Missouri’s revised statutes section 537.045 explains parental responsibility laws in personal injury and property claims. For the plaintiff to receive compensation from the parents, he or she must name the parent or guardian in the lawsuit. An injured individual may not hold a foster parent liable for damages.
Unlike other states’ laws, the state of Missouri allows parents, guardians, and/or minors to work for the injured individual instead of paying up to $2000 in damages. All parties must agree to the working arrangement for the courts to approve this alternative to payment.
Under section 302.250, a parent or guardian may also face liability for allowing any child under the age of 16 to operate a vehicle on Missouri roads. Parents should take reasonable precautions to prevent minors from operating a family vehicle without proper licensing.
Additional Liability Factors in Minor-Caused Injury Claims
The scope of parental responsibility laws is limited in most states, but parents may still face legal action for a child’s misbehavior under common law fault rules. In general, parents and guardians accept a certain level of responsibility in caring for a child. Parents must take reasonable actions to prevent and control a child’s harmful behaviors. If a parent or guardian knows or should have reasonably known about a child’s propensity to act out, he or she may face liability for the child’s damaging actions.
For example, if a parent hands the keys of a high-powered sports car to a newly licensed child and the child causes a car accident in Kansas City, the parent may face some level of legal responsibility. A parent might also face liability for encouraging a minor to engage in physical violence or for purchasing spray paint for a child who might use it to vandalize local buildings.
In one Missouri parental responsibility claim from 2014, a special needs child committed an act of violence against teachers at school. One teacher’s assistant suffered injuries during the attack and filed a claim against the child’s parents. In the claim, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants were aware of the child’s propensity for violence and failed to take reasonable action in the form of medication, therapy, or some other treatment.
Courts initially dismissed the claim, but reversed its decision during a subsequent appeal. The state of Missouri determined that parents with previous knowledge of a child’s propensity toward damaging behavior must use reasonable care to minimize the risks. The parents faced liability even though they were not at the school and did not know about the incident until after it happened.
Parents who can prove they acted reasonably and were not aware of a child’s damaging behaviors will not likely face responsibility for the child’s actions. However, every parent must acknowledge responsibility and assert a reasonable level of control over minors. Any parent who understands the potential risks a child poses and fails to act may face financial responsibility for the child’s actions in the state of Missouri.