Are Parents Liable for Their Children’s Damages?
Parents have a duty to care for their child, which also entails watching over them, and preventing them from harm or causing harm to another. It is the parent’s responsibility to ensure their child is always safe. Many people are unaware that when a minor causes injury to another person, their parents can be held liable. Under CACI No. 428, which is the (Nonstatutory) Parental Liability Act, if the parent’s negligence contributed to the accident, or intentional acts of their child, the responsibility will fall on them. In other words, if they were not observing the child’s conduct which led to the injury, or restraining them, the parents are at fault. They can be directly or indirectly (vicariously) liable depending on the circumstances.
Four Circumstances where Parents are Liable
- When the child’s driving causes an accident (Vehicle Code 17707)
- When the child intentionally causes injury to another person
- When the parent is observing their child’s harmful behavior but fails to restrain them
- When a parent gives their children access to a firearm and as a result the child injures another
If any of these circumstances occur, parents can face criminal prosecution under California’s child abuse laws or California’s child endangerment laws. They may also be responsible for the monetary damages acquired by the person who was injured because of their child’s actions.
California’s Vicarious Parental Responsibility Law
Under the California Civil Code 1714.1, parents/guardians may be liable for up to $25,000 due to their child’s willful misconduct. For the parents to be held liable for monetary damages, the child’s behavior had to have resulted in injury or death to another person, or damages to someone else’s property. However, the plaintiff may not receive compensation for pain and suffering or punitive damages.
Parental liability is limited to $25,000, including attorney fees, and the parent’s insurance company will also be limited to $10,000 for a loss under this law.
Joint and Several Liability
An injured party has the option of suing both the child and the parents. Since most children do not have the money to pay for damages, the parents/guardians become jointly and severally liable with the child.
What is “Willful” Misconduct?
California’s legal definition of willful misconduct is not whether the child intentionally committed such acts, but if the child had the mental capacity to comprehend that the acts would lead to the result. Parents would be indirectly liable in certain circumstances, depending on the age of the child and what exactly happened.
Parental Negligence and Direct Liability
Under California law, parents/guardians will be directly liable for damages caused by their children if they were the result of the parent’s negligence.
How to Prove Direct Liability
- The parent was aware and/or observing the misconduct committed by their child that caused harm to another person
- The parent had the ability to control their child
- The parent did not use reasonable care to prevent the harmful acts of the child
- Due to the parent failing to prevent such harm, the plaintiff was injured.
Parental Liability for Firearm use of Child
Under California Civil Code 1714.3, the child and parent/guardian will be jointly and severally liable if the minor had access to a firearm that was discharged due to the parent’s negligence. The parent had to have either given the child permission to have the firearm or left the firearm in an easily accessible place for the child.
Parental liability for the use of a firearm by their child is capped at $30,000 for injury or death to another individual, and $60,000 for injury or death to more than one person.
Defenses for Parental Liability
- The parent was unaware of the child’s dangerous tendencies
- (A defense to direct liability only) The child was not under the parent’s control
- The injuries of the plaintiff were not a result of the child’s actions
- (Firearm defense) The parents did not authorize the child to use the firearm
Vehicle Code 17707
Under California Vehicle Code 17707, a parent is held liable for their child’s driving. Once the parent signs the consent form for their minor to drive, they are held liable for an injury that resulted from an accident caused by their child. Under VC 17706, the plaintiff may sue the child and/or the parent, which makes the parent and child jointly and severally liable. Damages may include lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.
Five Elements the Plaintiff must Prove under VC 17707
- The child was negligent while operating the vehicle
- The plaintiff was injured
- The child’s negligence caused the injuries to the plaintiff
- The parent signed a consent form for their minor to operate a vehicle
- The child’s license was valid at the time of the accident
Defenses for VC 17707
- The child was not the driver but rather a passenger
- The vehicle was not in motion at the time of the accident
- The parent did not sign the consent form allowing the minor to drive
- The parent withdrew their consent after signing the form
- The child was operating the vehicle due to an emergency
It may seem unfair for a parent to be held responsible for their child’s actions; however, victims should not have to deal with the financial burdens that come with personal injury or property damage caused by someone else’s negligence. Because a child likely will not have the money to pay for the plaintiff’s damages, the liability falls on the parent and/or guardian. Once a child turns 18, they legally become an adult, making them responsible for all their actions.
What To Do If You Are Injured by Someone Else’s Child
You may be entitled to compensation if you or a loved one was injured by someone else’s child in California. Our personal injury attorneys at JT Legal Group have over 100 years of experience combined and can help you recover financially from the hardships associated with your damages.
Contact our firm today at (888) 529-3111 for further legal assistance.