California law holds minors liable for conduct that injures others, but certain legal principles operate to measure and limit minors’ liability. Minors may only be held liable for punitive damages if they were “capable of knowing that the act was wrongful” at the time of the injury. (Family Code § 6600)
For the purposes of negligence, minors are required only to exercise the degree of care ordinarily exercised by someone of like maturity, intelligence and capacity, unless the minor is engaged in an an activity normally engaged in only by adult and requiring adult qualifications. (e.g., operating motor vehicles).
Generally, the parent-child relationship does not itself make parents liable for the acts of their minor children. However, there are certain circumstances where parental liability may be established:
- The parents had knowledge of prior misconduct & failed to use reasonable care to prevent future harm;
- The parent signed the child’s driver’s license application or the child drives the parent’s car with permission;
- The child is guilty of willful misconduct;
- The child was given access to firearms;
- The child defaced another’s property with graffiti; or
- The child is convicted of a crime and ordered to pay restitution to the victim.
An adult will also be held liable to persons injured by an underage person where the injury is caused by the furnishing of alcoholic beverages.
Given the statutory restrictions on punitive recovery and the lower standard for a child’s breach of duty, plaintiff’s injured by a child’s misconduct may benefit by looking closely at the facts to determine if the child’s misconduct gives rise to a claim against the parents. Consult with an experienced personal injury attorney in your area if you are injured.