This article addresses when a parent is responsible for the tortious acts of their minor child. Generally, a parent does not have any liability for a tort committed by their child. However, there a few limited exceptions.
Parental Liability for a Minor's Driving in California
Since, in California, the parent or legal guardian must sign a driver's license application for any minor who is under 18, section 17707 essentially spells out civil liability for that parent or guardian if the minor causes a car accident which provides: "Any civil liability of a minor arising out of his driving a motor vehicle...is hereby imposed upon the person who signed and verified the application of the minor for a license,".
Agent and Principal
A parent is liable for the acts committed by their child when that child is acting within the course and scope of a relationship built on an agency theory. The best example of something like this is when a parent asks their child to go to the store to pick something up for them. The child at that instance is under the control and direction of their parent. As such the parent is responsible for the child as an employer is for an employee.
Knowledge of Prior Misconduct
A parent may sometimes be considered liable for an injury caused by their own child where the parent's own negligence made it possible for the child to cause the injury.
In other words, the evidence must show that the parents had a duty as a reasonable person to restrain the child. This is a fact intensive inquiry that is generally not easily answered. The evidence must demonstrate that the parent knew or should have known that their child could have committed the type of act which injured the individual. If for example a minor has a history of painting graffiti a future act of tagging using the parents paint maybe foreseeable.
Statutory liability exists in certain situations where the child engages in "willful misconduct." Cal. Civil Code ? 1741.1. This statute does not impute liability for ordinary negligence but where the act rises above negligence. The damages that can be awarded under this statute are also capped at $ 25,000.00.
The statute imposes liability on parents where bodily injury happens as the result of the child's willful misconduct that results in physical harm.
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