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Parental Liability for the Actions of Children

Child ActionsSometimes, a minor misbehaves and causes harm to others. Children, however, are not usually in a financial position to compensate injured parties for the harm they cause. Fortunately for the victims of a minor’s willful wrongdoing, California law provides that a misbehaving minor’s parents or guardians can be held liable for damages caused by the minor.

Willful Acts

Under California law, a minor child’s parent or guardian is liable for any willful act of the child that results in injury or death to another person or harm to another’s property. This is true as long as the parent or guardian has custody and control over the minor. Then, the parent will be jointly and severally liable, along with the minor, for all civil damages resulting from the willful misconduct. Joint and several liability means that the injured party may collect damages from the parent, the child, or both.

Willful misconduct means the child’s intentional acts. For the parent to be liable, the minor must have caused the harm on purpose. The parent will not be held liable for damages caused by the minor’s carelessness or negligence; simply causing an accident is not sufficient.

Limits on Liability

Parents may only be held liable for a child’s intentional acts for amounts up to $25,000 per wrongful act. The amount is adjusted every two years to account for inflation.

In the event of an injury to a person, the parent’s liability is limited to medical, dental, and hospital expenses. This means that the injured party cannot recover noneconomic damages from the parent. Noneconomic damages include compensation for harms such as pain and suffering, mental distress, or disfigurement.

For damages caused by graffiti or other defacement of property, the parent can be held liable for all civil damages, including court costs and attorney’s fees. Again, parental liability is limited to $25,000. It is important to note that California has different laws addressing parental liability for damage caused by a minor’s vehicular misconduct.


The purpose of laws assigning parental liability for harm caused by a minor’s misconduct is twofold: to compensate victims and to encourage parental responsibility. Children do not generally have the financial resources sufficient to compensate injured parties for the damage they cause. Thus, California law assigns liability to parents so that victims of a child’s wrongdoing receive at least some compensation.

Additionally, the parental liability law is based on the goal of encouraging parents to supervise and exercise control over their children. Parents have the duty to reasonably supervise their children, and states have an interest in protecting the public welfare by holding parents responsible when they fail in their duties. If the parents can be held financially liable for their children’s wrongdoing, the potential for liability may encourage them to be more responsible parents.

If you have been injured by a child’s maliciousness or intentional wrongdoing, an attorney can help you understand how to recover compensation for your losses. Please contact the experienced San Jose personal injury attorneys at Corsiglia McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. for a confidential consultation.

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