Historically, the general rule was that a parent is not responsible for the acts of a child. However, the Oregon legislature has largely changed this rule by enacting several laws that increase potential liability of a parent for the acts of a child. Accordingly, the rule in Oregon is that the parent or guardian of a child under the age of 18 can be held financially responsible for acts committed by the child that injure or damage another person, or another person's property.
Liability of a parent or guardian generally comes from the acts of the child and/or the negligence of the parent or guardian as it relates to the acts of the child. For example, a parent or guardian can be held liable for negligently allowing their minor child to operate a vehicle if that act resulted in injury to another and the parent or guardian knew or should have known the child was not a competent driver. Parents may also be liable if a minor child fails to pay taxes on income they have earned. If the parents are not married, the parent who has custody of the child is the one financially responsible for any damages the child causes.
A parent or guardian is not responsible for a child's act if the child is married or has been legally emancipated. Emancipation is a legal proceeding in which the juvenile court has declared that a minor over 16 can legally live on his or her own and enjoy many adult rights and responsibilities. (Your child cannot be "emancipated" without using this proceeding.)
Foster parents do not have financial or legal responsibility for the intentional, destructive acts of the foster children in their care, and may make their own claim to the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) for damages to themselves or their property caused by the actions of the foster children in their care.
Oregon law provides that if a child is under age 18, not married or emancipated and commits an intentional or reckless act that damages property or injures someone, a custodial parent or guardian is usually legally responsible only for the actual damages caused by the acts of the child. This means that the injured party must show the out-of-pocket expenses incurred to repair damage caused by the minor child, such as medical bills to treat an injury caused by the child.
There is no limit to the custodial parent or guardian’s liability if a minor child is responsible for damaging school district property, has stolen merchandise, or has taken agricultural produces. In these situations, the owner of the damaged or stolen property can recover the actual cost of repair or replacement of the property from the parent or guardian. Parents can also be held liable for a penalty of no less than $100 and no more than $250 in addition to the value of merchandise shoplifted or agricultural produce taken.
Fortunately for parents and guardians, in other situations Oregon law does put a limitation on the amount for which a parent or guardian can be liable. Even if a person can prove actual damages occurred, the most he or she can recover from the parent or guardian in most cases is $7,500, or the amount of actual damages, whichever is less. This $7,500 limit is per person making a claim — no matter how many separate acts the child committed during the incident that caused the injury.
Finally, parents or guardians may be liable for up to $5,000 for fire suppression costs incurred in suppressing forestland fires caused by a minor child and up to $5,000 awarded in a judgment against a minor child for damages, including emotional distress, in a civil action for intimidation.
Legal editor: Maria Keddis, May 2018