A Mothers’ Day 2023 Special: Can You Sue Your Employee’s Mom?

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Article2023 | 05 | 11

A Mothers' Day 2023 Special: Can You Sue Your Employee's Mom?

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In the spring of 1995, two kids aged 14 and 15 left a Zellers store on Henderson Hwy in Winnipeg with a number of items without paying for them, including Star Wars and Lion King toys.

The kids were apprehended shortly after leaving the store and all of the stolen items were returned to the store undamaged and ready for sale.

Following this event, the mother of one of the kids received a letter from Zellers’ lawyer asserting that she was liable for her kid’s theft and demanded payment of $225.00, or else Zellers would take court action.

The mother paid the demand but later sued Zellers to get the money back.

In this case, the issue before the Court was whether there was a binding contract between the mother and Zellers in which the mother agreed to pay the $225 and, in exchange, Zellers agreed to not sue her. It held that the agreement was not binding since the claim of liability Zellers had threatened against the mother was an invalid one since there was no general rule (at least at that time) that a parent is liable for their child’s wrongdoing. In other words, Zellers’ promise to sue was an empty one since it did not have a legal cause of action against the child’s mother.

Shortly after the Court issued its decision in this case, The Parental Responsibility Act was enacted in Manitoba whose stated purpose was to “ensure that parents are held reasonably accountable for the activities of their children in relation to the property of other people.”

In short, the claim against a parent is capped at $10,000 and applies where a child “deliberately takes, damages or destroys the property of another person”.  The Act defines a “child” as a person under the age of 18.

A parent can defend against such a claim by establishing that they were exercising reasonable supervision over the child at the time the child engaged in the activity in question and they made reasonable efforts in good faith to prevent or discourage the child from engaging in that kind of activity.

While I have not seen a reported decision in which an employer brought a claim under the Act against the parent of one of its child employees who deliberately causes property damage or loss while at work, it appears that could be done. I would expect that most parents would have a good argument in their defence that their lack of supervision over their child was reasonable considering the child was working for an employer at the time.

But it would get interesting if the parent had to establish, with evidence, that they made reasonable efforts in good faith to prevent or discourage their child from stealing or damaging others’ property.

This Mother’s Day, please don’t put Mom in the position of having to defend a claim under The Parental Responsibility Act.

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If you would like legal advice, kindly contact the author(s) directly or the firm's Chief Operating Officer at pknapp@tmlawyers.com, or 204.988.0356.

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About the Author
Peter Mueller
Peter Mueller