Can Parents Be Legally Responsible for Personal Injuries Caused By Their Children?
In this day and age, we expect others to pay for the damage they cause. Whether it be medical expenses, property damage, lost wages or compensation for pain and suffering. If someone is injured by another, it should only be fair that the person at-fault pay for the losses caused. Unfortunately, people are injured every day by minor children who simply do not have the money or assets to pay for the injuries they cause to others.
As a result, if you or a loved one have been injured by someone under the age of 18, you may be wondering if his or her parents can be held responsible for your injuries. Much like every other legal question, the answer will depend on the facts of the situation and how they relate to the laws set forth in the State of California. Hopefully this article will give you a general understanding of how these laws work so that you can decide if you have a case worth pursuing.
A Negligent Parent Could Be Responsible for Injuries Caused By His or Her Children
Generally, the first step in determining if a parent is responsible for the conduct of his or her child is to see if the parent was negligent. This is based on the facts of what happened. The biggest indication that a parent was negligent would be if the parent knew or had reason to know that his or her child had habits or tendencies which made it likely that the child would misbehave.
…the first step in determining if a parent is responsible for the conduct of his or her child is to see if the parent was negligent.
Much like school teachers, parents have a “special relationship” with their child. This places a legal duty on them to exercise reasonable care to prevent their child from harming others. Ultimately, if a parent recognizes or should have recognized these negative habits or tendencies, then the parent has a duty to act reasonably to prevent his or her child from harming others.
If a child has a history of violence or has a tendency to act reckless around others, then that child’s parents may have a duty to use reasonable care to ensure that the child does not misbehave. This would also mean that the parent has a duty to make sure that the child does not injure others as well. For example, if a child had previously attacked and hurt other children on multiple occasions, a parent would be able to foresee that his or her child may attack again. In this situation, it could be argued that the parent is responsible for not stopping that behavior because he or she was aware of it.
In Most Cases Parents Will Not be Responsible for Injuries Caused by Their Children Accidentally
On the other hand, it is difficult to establish responsibility on the parents when a child injures someone out of negligence or by accident. This is because it is nearly impossible to predict when a child will make a mistake. Usually, children do not display habits or tendencies of accidents as much as they do intentional conduct such as battery.
Parents Can Be Responsible For Injuries Caused By Their Children If The Parents Were Social Hosts
The setting of where the injury occurred may give rise to parental liability. For example, if you or your child were injured by another child at a social gathering, then the parents may be responsible under a completely different legal theory referred to as “Social Host Liability.” Depending on the size and nature of the gathering, the parent hosts may owe a heightened duty to exercise reasonable care to ensure that their child does not injure others. If the parents knew or should have known that their guests were fighting, roughhousing or engaging in other dangerous conduct, then they may be responsible for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent others from being injured.
Parents Who Provide Alcohol to Minors May Be Held Responsible for Injuries Caused by the Minors
Alcohol consumption may also play an important role in deciding if the parents are responsible. As a general rule, California law provides that no social host who gives alcohol to any individual may be held responsible for damages experienced by that individual resulting from consuming that alcohol. However, the law carves out an exception when the person given the alcohol is under the age of 21.
This is set forth in California Civil Code § 1714. California Civil Code § 1714 sets forth:
(c) Except as provided in subdivision (d), no social host who furnishes alcoholic beverages to any person may be held legally accountable for damages suffered by that person, or for injury to the person or property of, or death of, any third person, resulting from the consumption of those beverages.
(d) (1) Nothing in subdivision (c) shall preclude a claim against a parent, guardian, or another adult who knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person whom he or she knows, or should have known, to be under 21 years of age, in which case, notwithstanding subdivision (b), the furnishing of the alcoholic beverage may be found to be the proximate cause of resulting injuries or death.
Who Can Sue a Parent or Adult Who Furnished Alcohol to a Minor?
Anyone who was injured as a result of a parent or adult serving alcohol to a minor may sue the parent or adult. This includes the minor who was given the alcohol or any third party injured by the minor. California Civil Code § 1714(d)(2) provides for this. It sets forth “a claim under this subdivision may be brought by, or on behalf of, the person under 21 years of age or by a person who was harmed by the person under 21 years of age.”
What Types of Personal Injury Situations Could Arise From Giving Alcohol to A Minor
If you or your child is hurt as a result of alcohol consumption at another child’s household, the parents of that household may be responsible for the injuries. Common scenarios usually include children suffering alcohol poisoning from overconsumption or sustaining injury as a result of driving a motor vehicle under the influence. If an intoxicated child, who was served alcohol by a friend’s parent, then drove his or her car home and crashed, the child could sue the parents for his or her injuries. Likewise, innocent third parties who were injured as a result of the crash could also sue.
If an intoxicated child, who was served alcohol by a friend’s parent, then drove his or her car home and crashed, the child could sue the parents for his or her injuries.
It Must Be Foreseeable That the Injuries Sustained Could Arise From the Service of the Alcohol
Typically, the injuries sustained have to be related to the consumption of alcohol in order for the parents to be held liable under this theory. The resulting injuries must also be foreseeable. It is foreseeable that a minor who is served alcohol and then allowed to drive, may crash and cause injury to themselves and others on the road. On the other hand, freak accidents and unforeseeable injuries are likely not enough to establish liability on the parents.
You Should Talk to a Personal Injury Attorney To Determine if the Injuries Caused Were Foreseeable
If you or a loved one are injured by an intoxicated minor who was served alcohol at the home of an adult or parent, you should consult with an attorney. An attorney will be able to assist you in determining if a personal injury claim may be brought against the parents. An attorney will evaluate case law and be able to tell whether or not a similar fact pattern exists where a parent was held responsible. At the same time, even if there is no similar case, an attorney will be able to tell you if there are cases which suggest that you may prevail or lose if a claim is advanced against the parents.
Parents Are Legally Liable for The Willful Misconduct of Their Children Up to $25,000
In the event that the facts of your case do not fall under the topics discussed above, there is one more California law that could help compensate you or a loved one for injuries caused by a minor child. Pursuant to California Civil Code § 1714.1, a parent is liable for 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 up to $25,000. This failsafe statute was intended to provide a remedy for those who fall victim to a minor child’s inappropriate conduct. It was designed for relatively small injuries that are the result of a child’s intentional or willful misconduct.
What Is Willful Misconduct of a Child Which Could Make a Parent Responsible for Personal Injuries Caused?
A child engages in willful misconduct when they intend to do something either with knowledge that serious injury is probable or with a wanton and reckless disregard of its possible result. This means that the child’s actions must have been more than just negligent or accidental. In simple terms, the child must have known that what they were doing was likely to cause injury to others. Therefore, this statute is commonly used to encompass claims involving roughhousing, horseplay, vandalism and intentional battery.
This means that the child’s actions must have been more than just negligent or accidental.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Today to Discuss Your Case
Due to the evolving nature of California case law, it comes as no surprise that child to parent liability is an extremely fact sensitive subject and should be analyzed be a legal professional. The slightest variation in facts can drastically change the outcome of your case. As such, if you or a loved one suffered a serious injury as the result of a minor child, contact Piccuta Law Group today. An experienced personal injury attorney is available now to discuss your case. A consultation is free. There is no retainer to pay or any up-front costs or fees. We only earn a fee if we recover money for you.
About the author: The content on this page was written by California personal injury attorney and civil rights lawyer Charles “Tony” Piccuta. Piccuta graduated with honors from Indiana University-Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, Indiana (Previously ranked Top 35 US News & World Report). Piccuta took and passed the State bars of Arizona, California, Illinois and Nevada (all on the first try). He actively practices throughout California and Arizona. He is a winning trial attorney that regularly handles serious personal injury cases and civil rights lawsuits. He has obtained six and seven figure verdicts in both state and federal court. He has been recognized by Super Lawyers for six years straight. He is AV Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is a member of the Consumer Attorneys of California, American Association for Justice, National Police Accountability Project, Arizona Association of Justice, and many local county and City bar associations.
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