Are Parents Liable When Their Child Inflicts Harm?

Are Parents Liable When Their Child Inflicts Harm?

June 28, 2023

Just like numerous other states, California enforces laws regarding parental responsibility that can potentially make parents or legal guardians liable when a minor causes property damage or personal injury under various circumstances, including but not limited to “willful misconduct” and vehicular accidents.

Liability of Parents for a Minor’s Deliberate Misconduct in California

Such liabilities are addressed under section 1714.1 of the California Civil Code, which states: “If a minor’s willful misconduct leads to the injury or death of another person, or damage to someone else’s property, the parent or guardian with custody and control of the minor is held responsible for all civil damages.”

In simpler terms, this law imposes a financial liability on parents and legal guardians in California for any property damage or injuries caused by their minor child’s intentional misconduct.

Financial Limitation on Parents’ Liability for their Child’s Misdeeds in California

The statute further mentions that the parent or guardian having custody is jointly liable along with the minor for any damage resulting from the minor’s willful misconduct, capped at $25,000 for each offense (Note: This amount undergoes biennial adjustment based on cost of living and other determinants).

In case a person is injured due to the minor’s intentional misconduct, the $25,000 limit can encompass compensation for medical costs and other expenses related to the injury. However, it does not cover compensation for non-economic damages such as “pain and suffering.”

Parental Liability in California for a Child’s Vandalism and Property Defacement

If the minor’s misconduct involves vandalism or “defacement of another’s property with paint or a comparable substance,” the joint liability of the parent/guardian remains at $25,000. This limit also covers court costs and attorney’s fees awarded to the individual filing the lawsuit over the incident.

Differentiating Between “Willful Misconduct” and Negligence

It’s essential to note that section 1714.1 of the California Civil Code only enforces parental liability for a minor’s intentional misconduct, signifying the minor’s purposeful action rather than mere negligence leading to an accident. “Willful misconduct” necessitates an intent to act, which goes beyond simple negligence on the minor’s part. Nevertheless, in the scenario of a car accident caused by a minor’s negligence, parents and guardians may be held legally accountable.

Parental Accountability for a Minor’s Driving in California

Two principal California statutes may impose liability on a parent or legal guardian for damages resulting from a minor’s driving.

According to Section 17707 of the California Vehicle Code: “Civil liability of a minor originating from their operation of a motor vehicle… is hereby conferred upon the person who endorsed and confirmed the minor’s license application, and that person will be jointly and severally liable with the minor for any damages directly resulting from the negligent or wrongful act or omission of the minor while driving.”

Given that a parent or legal guardian in California must sign the driver’s license application for any minor under 18, section 17707 essentially designates civil liability to that parent or guardian if the minor is involved in a car accident.

Section 17708 of the California Vehicle Code potentially makes a parent liable for all foreseeable damages if they provide explicit or implied permission for a minor to operate a vehicle (regardless of the minor’s licensed status) and the minor subsequently causes a car accident.

These driving-related regulations must be distinguished from the “willful misconduct” statute previously discussed in terms of the minor’s conduct and the potential damages that could be awarded to the person suing for injuries.

Parents May Share Liability for Minors’ Car Accidents in California

In the context of driving, parents can be jointly responsible for any car accident caused by the minor. In this scenario, mere negligence or carelessness is sufficient to invoke the parent/guardian’s legal obligation for the resulting damages, with the minor’s intent not being a factor.

No Financial Limit to Parents’ Responsibility in Car Accidents

While section 1714.1 of the California Civil Code (the “willful misconduct” statute discussed earlier) limits a parent/guardian’s liability to $25,000 for actual damages, California’s driving-related statutes make a parent/guardian jointly accountable for “any damages proximately resulting” from the accident. This includes compensation for non-economic losses such as pain and suffering, which can amount to substantial sums in the case of severe car accident injuries.

Further information about parents’ liability for teen drivers’ accidents and relevant California laws impacting car accident cases can be found here.

Potential for Parental Liability in Other Circumstances in California

Parents and legal guardians in California should be aware that they may also be legally accountable for a minor’s actions under traditional civil fault principles, beyond the statutory provisions discussed above.

Generally, a parent who neglects to adequately supervise a child, despite knowing the child’s dangerous tendencies, may be deemed negligent if foreseeable harm arises due to the child’s actions. Learn more about parental responsibility laws and personal injury liability.

Posted by

Laura Delgado

Laura Delgado is an accomplished digital marketing specialist at Avian Law Group. She brings with her a wealth of experience and a strong background in criminal justice and psychology, which has proven to be invaluable in her role at the firm. Laura’s exceptional leadership qualities and her ability to excel under pressure enable her to adapt to any situation and contribute significantly to the team.

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