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ARE PARENTS LIABLE FOR THEIR CHILDREN’S TORTS OR CRIMES?


DEFINITIONS

“Tort” means a legally actionable civil wrong.  Usually no contract is involved.  Examples include vehicular collisions, negligently or intentionally caused injuries, libel, slander, and many others.

“Joint and several liability” means that: (1) More than one party is liable; and (2) The creditor or victim can recover all damages from just one party separately or from all parties jointly.

“Minor” means a child under the age of eighteen years.

“Parent” means parent(s) or guardian(s) who have custody and control over the child.

 

GENERAL RULE – NO TORT LIABILITY

 Generally, a parent is not liable for torts committed by his or her minor child. Hagerty v. Powers (1885) 66 Cal. 368, 369.

 

STATUTORY EXCEPTIONS

However, parents and minor are jointly and several liable (along with the minor) for the minor’s torts or crimes, as follows:

Licensed Driver (Vehicle Code 17707, 17709, 360):

If a minor driver causes injury, death, and/or property damage on a public road, then the parent is also liable.  But the parent is liable up to:

Injury damages:    $15,000 per person; or

        $30,000 for two or more persons;

 Property damage: $5,000   

 Liability attaches only to the parent who signed and verified the minor’s driver’s license application.

A concerned parent can revoke the application signature and the minor will lose his or her license (Vehicle Code 17711)

No liability attaches if minor was driving within the scope of his or her employment or agency (Vehicle Code 17710)

         

Learner’s Permit Driver (Vehicle Code Section 12509):

 A parent is liable for negligently supervising (failing to use reasonable care) a child driving with a learner’s permit.  There is no damage amount limit.

See also Kostecky v. Henry (1980) 113 Cal.App.3d 362.

 

Minor Driver (Vehicle Code 17708, 17709, 360):

 If a minor driver causes injury, death, and/or property damage on a public road, then the parent is also liable.  But the parent is liable up to:

 Injury damages:    $15,000 per person; or

        $30,000 for two or more persons;

 Property damage: $5,000   

 Liability occurs only when the child drove “with the express or implied permission of the parents or guardian.”                                               

 

Intentional Wrongdoing (Civil Code 1714.1(a); California Rules of Court Appendix B):

 If a minor child's "willful misconduct" causes injury or death to another person, the parent is also liable.  However, parental liability is limited to $37,400 (effective 01/01/2011 -  periodically adjusted for inflation).

 Damages are limited to medical, dental and hospital expenses.          

 
Intentional Wrongdoing Related to School (Education Code 48904):

 If a minor willfully causes:

 (1) injury or death to another student, employee or volunteer of private or public school district; and/or

 (2) real or personal property of school district or employee thereof

 Then the parent is also liable.  Parental liability is limited to $10,000 plus any liability under CC 1714.1 (Curry v. Superior Court (1993) 20 Cal.App.4th 180); and in addition to a reward not exceeding $10,000 per Government Code 53069.5                                                                              

Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor (Civil Code 1714(d)(1)):

A parent, guardian or another adult who "knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person that he or she knows, or should have known, to be under 21 years of age" may be liable if such alcoholic beverage is found to be the proximate cause of injuries or death.


Discharge of a Firearm (Civil Code Section 1714.3):

 If a minor child willfully causes injury or death to a person or damage to a person’s property due to discharge of a firearm, then the parent (who has "custody and control" of the minor) is also liable.  Parental liability is limited to a maximum of $30,000 per person and up to $60,000 aggregate (per occurrence).


Graffiti Abatement Costs (Government Code Section 38772):

 “A city or county may hold a parent liable for the expense of abatement of any nuisance resulting from the defacement of the property of another by graffiti or any other inscribed material.  There is no liability limit.  Further a lien can be attached to property of the minor and/or parents.

 "Expense of abatement" includes, without limitation: 
 Court costs; 
Attorney's fees; 
Graffiti removal costs; 
Repair and replacement costs of defaced property; and 
Law enforcement costs incurred identifying and apprehending the minor.

Truancy fines (Ed.C 48264.5(d)(2)):

Parents may be required to pay a $100 fine for the fourth violation in one year. A city or county may hold a parent liable for the expense of abatement of any nuisance


Curfew violations (W&IC 625.5(e)):

Parents must pay administrative and transportation costs incurred by police for picking up and returning children to their homes on a second violation. 


STATUTORY LIABILITY FOR CHILD’S CRIME

                                                  

Contributing to Delinquency of a Minor: (Penal Code 272; Williams v. Garcetti (1993) 5 Cal. 4th 561): 

If a parent or guardian contributes to the delinquency of a minor through grossly [aggravated, reckless] unreasonable care, supervision, protection, and control over the minor child, the parent may be punished. 

Punishment is a fine not to exceed $2500 and/or imprisonment of no more than one year. However, enforcement is generally instead obtained through parenting classes and counseling.

Criminal penalties likely only in those cases in which the parent’s culpability is great and causation is clear.

Parents who know or reasonably should know that their child is at risk of delinquency can be punished.

Parents who take reasonable steps to control their child and are not successful will not likely be charged.

 

Shoplifting (Penal Code 490.5):

If a minor child stole merchandise from a store (“merchant’s premises”) or from a library facility, then the parent is also liable.  Parental liability is limited to $500 (in addition to any other liability the parents might have for failing to prevent their child’s criminal activity).

                       

Minor convicted of a crime (Welfare and Institutions Code 730.7(a),(d); In re Michael S (2007) 147 Cal.App.4th 1443, 1449-1450):          

If a minor is convicted of a crime, the parent is liable for criminal restitution damages.  Liability is limited to the amounts stated in Civil Code 1714.1 and 1714.3 above.  Furthermore, damages are limited to economic type damages [i.e., replace or repair property; medical expenses; loss profits or wages – See W.I.C. 730.6(h),(j)]

Rebuttable Presumption: Parents must pay the damages unless they prove that they don’t have the financial means to do so.               

 

NON STATUTORY LIABILITY – NO DOLLAR LIMITS

Parents are civilly liable with the minor for the minor’s torts, as follows:

Notice of Dangerous propensities [Robertson v. Wentz (1986) 187 Cal.App.3d 1281; Singer v. Marx (1956) 144 Cal.App.2d 637; Reida v. Lund (1971)18 Cal.App.3d 698; Ellis v. D'Angelo (1953) 116 Cal.App.2d 310; Costello v. Hart (1972) 23 Cal.App.3d 898]:

Parents on notice (who know or reasonably should know – usually from prior actions) of their child’s dangerous propensities are liable for failure to take reasonable efforts to protect others by supervising, restraining and/or correcting the child or warning others of the danger.  

The absence of such ability to control the child is fatal to a claim of legal responsibility.

However, in Reida v. Lund (1971)18 Cal.App.3d 698 (negligent storage of dangerous instrumentalities, i.e., a firearm-gun-rifle), liability may be imposed for failure to use due care under all the circumstances in the storage of a dangerous instrumentality - despite the lack of notice of a child's propensities. Liability presumably or arguably may apply not only to a firearm but other dangerous instrumentalities such as, for example, a prescription medicines, alcohol, or even unattended cars or other motor vehicles.

 
Parent Employer – Child Employee [Kallenberg v. Long (1924) 68 Cal.App. 317]:

 Parents have vicarious liability (under general tort law principle of “respondeat superior”) if the child was acting within the scope of such agency or employment of the parent employer.      

See also Van Den Eikhof v. Hoffer (1978) 87 Cal.App.3d 900 and Casas v. Maulhardt Buick Inc. (1968) 258 Cal.App.2d 692, 704 ("Of course, a child may become an agent for his parent upon proof of facts which would be sufficient to establish an agency between the parent and a third person.").

        

Related Topics:

Permissive Use Law California

Liability of Non-Parent Watching Child


Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is informational, only. The subject matter and applicable law is evolving and/or constant state of change. No legal advice is given and no attorney/client or other relationship is established or intended.  The information provided is from general sources, and I cannot represent, guarantee or warrant that the information contained in this website is accurate, current, or is appropriate for the usage of any reader. It is recommend that readers of this information consult with their own legal counsel prior to relying on any information on this website.


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