Adult and Parent Liability for Minor’s Permissive Use of Motor Vehicle Laws

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] was harmed and that [name of defendant] is responsible for the harm because [name of defendant] gave [name of minor] permission to operate the vehicle. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

  1. That [name of minor] was negligent in operating the vehicle;
  2. That [name of plaintiff] was harmed;
  3. That [name of minor]’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the harm; and
  4. That [name of defendant], by words or conduct, gave [name of minor] permission to use the vehicle.

Law

  • Parental Liability for Minor’s Vehicle Operation. Vehicle Code section 17708.

  • The parent’s liability under Cal. Civ. Code § 1714.1 is limited to $ 10,000, and, with respect to personal injury claims, is limited to medical, dental, and hospital expenses. (Civil Code 1714.1(a) states: 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.)
  • “[I]t was incumbent upon [plaintiffs], in order to fasten liability upon [the parents] for the minor’s negligence, to establish two necessary facts. These facts were, first, that at the time the collision occurred respondents had custody of the minor and, second, that they had given to the minor their permission, either express or implied, to his driving the automobile by the negligent operation of which the injuries were caused.” (Sommers v. Van Der Linden (1938) 24 Cal.App.2d 375, 380 [75 P.2d 83].)

  • “Whether or not a sufficient custody existed, within the meaning of the statute, might well depend upon evidence of specific facts showing the nature, kind and extent of the custody and right of control which the respondent [grandfather] actually had.” (Hughes v. Wardwell (1953) 117 Cal.App.2d 406, 409 [255 P.2d 881].)

  • “In the absence of statute, ordinarily a parent is not liable for the torts of his minor child. A parent, however, becomes liable for the torts of his minor child if that child in committing a tort is his agent and acting within the child’s authority.” (Van Den Eikhofv. Hocker (1978) 87 Cal.App.3d 900, 904-905 [151 567 Cal.Rptr. 456], internal citations omitted.)
  • “ ‘[P]erson having custody of the minor’ means person having permanent legal custody, and not a person such as a school teacher whose control over his pupils is limited in time and scope.” (Hathaway v. Siskiyou Union High School Dist. (1944) 66 Cal.App.2d 103, 114 [151 P.2d 861].)
  • Under the common law, there is no general parental liability for the torts of a child. Statutes imposing parental liability are therefore in derogation of the common law, and the rule is that statutes which increase liability, or provide a remedy against a person who was not liable at common law are to be narrowly construed in favor of those sought to be subjected to them. Curry v. Superior Court, 20 Cal. App. 4th 180.
  • One purpose of the parental liability laws is to encourage responsibility in parents–that is, to encourage parents to exercise effective control over their children. Curry v. Superior Court, 20 Cal. App. 4th 180.
  • California has recently amended its penal statute governing contributing to the delinquency of a minor to permit the imposition of criminal liability on a parent who fails to make reasonable efforts to control a minor child. Curry v. Superior Court, 20 Cal. App. 4th 180.




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