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Parental Liability

In California, if you were injured by an individual under the age of 18, you can potentially file a personal injury claim against their parent or legal guardian. However, California, as in most states, limits the circumstances under which you can file a civil suit and the amount of compensation you are entitled to.

Compensation for a minor’s intentional wrongdoing

According to the California Civil Code section 1714.1, when injury, death, or damage are caused by a minor’s willful misconduct or intentional act, the parent or legal guardian can be held civilly liable- meaning required to pay restitution.

It is important to note that this code distinguishes a minor’s intentional behavior from mere negligence or carelessness.

The amount parents or legal guardians must pay are also capped to $25,000 per wrongful act. Compensation may be demanded for all economic or tangible losses, such as medical expenses or property damage, up to $25,000. Under this code, victims of a minor’s intentional misconduct CANNOT, however, seek compensation for non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Motor vehicle accidents and parental liability for a minor’s negligence

California Vehicle Codes impose civil liability on parents or legal guardians for a minor’s misconduct that caused an automotive accident, whether their behavior leading to injuries was careless or intentional.

California Vehicle Code section 17707 holds the person who sponsored a minor’s driver’s license application civilly liable for ANY damages resulting from car accidents caused by the minor’s negligent or willful actions. Unlike the code governing general intentional misconduct, section 17707 allows victims to recover economic and non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Parents and legal guardians can be held liable for unlicensed minors as well. California Vehicle Code section 17708 says that when a licensed or unlicensed minor is given permission, explicit or implicit, by their parent or legal guardian to drive a vehicle and then causes an accident, the parent or legal guardian may be held liable for all damages.

Filing claims for parental negligence

There are limited circumstances falling outside the above codes when a personal injury victim may file a civil suit against a parent or legal guardian for their child’s misconduct. There are some questions that are generally considered to determine if parental negligence can be used as the basis for a tort claim, including:

  • Did the parent take reasonable steps to supervise the minor if they knew their child had dangerous habits? For instance, a parent has an unusually aggressive toddler with a tendency to bite, causing severe injury. If they drop their child off at daycare without giving sufficient warning to caregivers and their toddler bites another child, breaking skin and causing an infection, the parent may be required to pay for these injuries.
  • Did the child injure someone while under the direct supervision of the parent or legal guardian? For example, a parent might take their child to a playground. Usual playful behavior that results in scrapes and bruises will likely be dismissed. However, if the parent witnesses their child bullying another, pushing them over and causing a severe head injury, and chose to do nothing, the victim’s parent may be able to recover expenses related to the injury.

Though the law seeks to make victims whole, laws also restrict the circumstances for which a person may seek compensation from a parent whose child caused the injuries or damages. To see what options are available to you, call our experienced personal injury lawyers anytime, day or night, at (805) 628-4967.