Parental Liability

Ever wonder if you could be held responsible for injuries or damages caused by your minor children? Almost every state in the country has adopted some form of a parental liability statute holding parents vicariously liable for the acts of their children. Parental liability statutes vary widely from state to state, but these laws typically attach parental liability to the willful and malicious acts of minors. Parental liability statutes usually limit the total amount of damages for which parents can be held accountable.

In California, any act of willful misconduct of a minor resulting in injury or death to a person or injury to property is imputed to the custodial parent or guardian, but limited to $25,000. (Civil Code § 1714.1)  A parent’s liability for the conduct of their children (minors or otherwise) can also occur if the minor child is acting as an agent on behalf of the parent (e.g. driving a work vehicle for the parent’s company), or if the parent knows from past misconduct that the child has a specific tendency toward a particular harmful conduct (e.g., playing with guns) and fails to take preventative measures.

Parents are under a duty to exercise reasonable care over their children, and to prevent their children from creating an unreasonable risk of harm. Negligent supervision claims generally require a plaintiff to prove (1) a child exhibited a propensity for the type of behavior that led to a loss; (2) the parents were aware of that propensity; and (3) the parents had an opportunity to exercise control over the child. This type of negligence claim is may not have any statutory cap on damages.

Vehicle Code statutes also impose liability upon parents for the negligence of minors, including instances when the parent signed a minor’s application for a driver’s license or allowed the use of their vehicle. However, in each of these examples a parent’s liability is limited to $15,000 for injury to or death of one person as a result of any one accident or, subject to the limit as to one person, exceeding $30,000 for injury to or death of all persons as a result of any one accident. (Veh. Code §§ 17709, 17151.)

Contact Kerr & Sheldon with any questions.