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Parental Liability for the Willful Misconduct of Minors

Even responsible parents can have children who misbehave. Legally speaking, parents may–and should–be concerned about when the law will hold them responsible for the wrongful acts their children commit.

In many cases, a child’s misbehavior is fleeting, and not very serious–a dispute with a friend, or taking a hand-held game to school in violation of rules against electronics, for example. Sometimes, however, a child’s conduct breaks not only institutional rules, but the law, and in some cases the parents can also be held responsible for the child’s malfeasance.

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CIVIL LIABILITY FOR WILLFUL MISCONDUCT CAUSING SERIOUS INJURY, DAMAGE, OR DEATH MAY BE IMPUTED (ATTRIBUTED) TO THE CHILD’S PARENT

Exceptions exist, but as a general rule when a minor’s willful misconduct leads to serious bodily injury, death, or substantial damage to property, the child’s parents can be held liable for civil damages resulting from the child’s actions. In fact, California Civil Code Section 1714.1 states the situation even more clearly:

“Any act of willful misconduct of a minor that results in injury or death to another person or in any injury to the property of another shall be imputed to the parent or guardian having custody and control of the minor for all purposes of civil damages, and the parent or guardian having custody and control shall be jointly and severally liable with the minor for any damages resulting from the willful misconduct.” –California Civil Code Section 1714.1(a) [Emphasis added.]

The law imposes a monetary ceiling on parental liability–and allows for increases to that limit over time. The current level of parental liability is almost $40,000 per occurrence–parents, take notice! This isn’t a small amount to pay if your child commits a serious injury or damages someone else’s property.

The liability cap in the statute allows for periodic adjustments (on or before July 1 of each odd-numbered year) and the applicable amount is the one in effect at the time of the minor’s wrongful act.

There is an exception to parental liability under Civil Code 1714.1 when the injured party was a “willing participant” in the child’s misconduct–an exception often invoked in cases involving consensual sex between minors.

PARENTS CAN BE HELD LIABLE FOR DAMAGES MINOR CHILDREN CAUSE AT SCHOOL

If a minor child engages in willful misconduct which results in injury, death, or damage to any student, school employee, or “person performing voluntary services for a school district,” the child’s parents can also be held liable for those damages. Similarly, parents can be held liable for physical damages their minor children cause to school property or the property of school employees.

The takeaway lesson: parents should supervise minor children appropriately, place reasonable restrictions on the behavior of their children, and take steps to prevent their minor children from engaging in willful, malicious, and harmful behavior. While some injuries may still occur, parents need to take responsibility for supervising–and controlling–the kinds of malicious behavior that lead to harm.

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DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for informational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice to any person or entity, and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any person or entity. Legal liability involves complex legal analysis, and no single article can provide complete or comprehensive coverage or information about this or any other legal topic or issue. Your personal rights and liabilities may differ, based on individual facts and circumstances. If you believe you have a legal claim or issue, or wish to know more about your individual rights, consult an experienced attorney immediately.

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