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ARE PARENTS RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR CHILD’S CRIMES?

The Law Office of Gregory N. Smith Feb. 11, 2022

Parenting children is an enormous responsibility. If your minor child causes property damage or injury to someone else, can you be held legally responsible?

Like most states, Missouri has parental responsibility laws that can hold parents civilly responsible for their child’s actions under certain circumstances. The Law Office of Gregory N. Smith can tell you when those circumstances apply and represent you should your child get into trouble.

If you want to learn when you may be liable for your child’s crimes in St. Louis, Missouri, as well as St. Charles, St. Louis County, Jefferson County, and East St. Louis, I can help.

What Are Missouri’s Parental Responsibility Laws?

Missouri recognizes that parents have a responsibility to control the actions of their minor children when those actions affect the safety or property of others. Missouri statute addresses that obligation in its parental responsibility laws.

Under the law, a parent can be held liable for their child’s intentional defacing, marking, or otherwise damaging of someone else’s property. For example, if they graffiti an overpass or building, or if they intentionally break windows or key a car, both the child and parent are legally responsible for the damage.

A parent can also be held liable if their child intentionally injures someone else, for example, in a fistfight or by hitting them with a baseball bat.

It is important to note that injury and property damage must be intentional to hold parents responsible. If a child’s negligence while operating a motor vehicle causes an accident that injures someone else, the parents cannot be held liable unless it can be proven under common tort law that the parent knew the child was reckless and failed to intervene to protect others from their child’s likely negligence. For example, if the parent knew the child was always using the phone while driving and failed to curtail their driving or phone privileges, the parent may be held negligent as well as the child.

Missouri’s parental responsibility laws apply to the parents or guardians of unemancipated minors in their custody and care but exclude foster parents.

What Possible Damages Might I Face?

The owner of the defaced or damaged property, or the victim of the child’s intentional injury, can obtain a civil judgment against a parent in an amount of up to $2,000. The property owner or injury victim must name the parent as a defendant in the lawsuit. If the damage is valued at more than $2,000, the property owner can obtain a judgment against the child for the difference.

You may be wondering how you will pay a $2,000 judgment and how your minor child will be able to pay perhaps significantly more. Missouri specifically addresses this issue in its parental responsibility law. If either you or your child is unable to pay the judgment in full, the court can order you to work for the plaintiff until the sum is paid.

Getting the Experienced Legal Support You Need

Even though the legal actions a parent may face under parental responsibility laws are civil rather than criminal, you should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. You will not be held criminally liable, but your child will face civil actions as well as criminal charges for the offenses committed. The tort action against you is directly related to the criminal offenses committed.

Perhaps the best way to limit your exposure is to have your child aggressively defended against the criminal charges.

It is not always an easy task for a parent to control the actions and behavior of their minor children. Parental responsibility laws are designed to protect the interests of the victims of your child’s crime. At The Law Office of Gregory N. Smith, I will work to protect yours.

If you are facing civil action under Missouri’s parental responsibility laws, and if your child is facing criminal charges as a juvenile or adult as well as civil action, call my office to schedule a case consultation.

We need to get started on your defense, so call now.