California Parental Responsibility Laws
We would all like to think that our children always behave like perfect angels. On the other hand, we know that our kids act out on occasion. Did you know that you could be civilly liable for any damage your minor child causes? Learn about parental responsibility laws and how the state of California handles damage caused by minors.
Like many other states, California has a number of parental responsibility laws on the books that make parents liable for any damages that result from their minor’s actions. We can break these laws down into two separate categories:
First, parents may be responsible for any “willful misconduct” of a minor leading to property damage or injury. Under California Civil Code 1714.1, any act of misconduct by a minor that leads to injury, death, or property damage will be the financial and civil responsibility of the parent or legal guardian. A custodial parent or guardian may be jointly liable with the minor for $25,000 per wrongful act. This is the latest estimate, though the dollar amount may change to reflect inflation, cost of living, and other elements.
The $25,000 per wrongful act can apply to medical bills and other economic damages, but do not apply to intangible losses such as pain and suffering. The $25,000 dollar rule also applies to property damage such as graffiti or defacement of public property.
Keep in mind that these rules only apply to a minor’s “willful misconduct.” In other words, a parent might be civilly liable if his or her child starts a fight and breaks another child’s arm. On the other hand, parents will likely not be liable if their student-athlete breaks another’s arm while completing a legal tackle on the football field.
Parental Liability and Minor Driving Rules
The other main parental responsibility law pertains to a minor’s use of a motor vehicle. According to the California Vehicle Code, a parent may be civilly liable for any damages his or her child incurs while driving a motor vehicle. California law requires that a parent or legal guardian sign a driver’s license application for anyone under the age of 18, so parents can be – and likely will be – liable for any damages from a car accident in which their minor is at fault.
The California Vehicle Code also states that a parent can be potentially liable for any foreseeable damages when they give a minor implied or express consent to drive a vehicle. These statutes vary from California’s willful misconduct laws in a couple of different ways:
- The minor’s intent does not apply. With the “willful conduct” parental responsibility law, the parents will only be liable if a minor’s intentional conduct leads to injury of property damage. In a car accident, however, a parent will be liable for any injuries a minor causes, even if it was “just an accident.”
- Damage caps do not apply. With the “willful conduct” statute, a parent may only be liable for economic damages up to $25,000 per wrongful act. In a car accident, a parent may be responsible for any damages stemming from the accident – including not only economic damages, but intangible losses, as well.
Parents in California have a responsibility to keep their children reasonably safe, but also to protect property and people from their child’s behavior. If a minor child causes property damage, injury, or death – whether through a car accident or their own willful actions – parents can be civilly liable for the damages that result. To reduce your risk of liability, talk to your child about safe driving practices and tackle any potentially problematic behaviors as they arise.