Parental Liability for a Minor’s Driving in California

Most people still remember the case of the 16-year-old Texan who caused the death of 5 people and seriously injured 2 of his own passengers while driving drunk in mid-2013. It caused an uproar because his “affluenza” defense (he was spoiled rotten by rich parents and could not be held criminally liable for his bad behavior) earned him 10 years probation, mandatory rehabilitation, and no jail time.

In reaction, a California lawmaker introduced a bill in January 2014 that would have banned the use of the “affluenza” defense in California courts. The bill was shot down, however, because opponents stated that putting a limit to legal defenses presumed that juries were not capable of making a reasonable determination about the merits of a defense.

However, California does have laws that address the civil liability of parents or legal guardians for property damage, injuries, and deaths caused by a minor’s driving. This is encoded in the California Vehicle Code § 17707, and unlike the section that deals with general liability of parents or guardians for damages caused by a minor’s “willful misconduct” limiting the liability to $25,000, there is no limit to the consequences of a vehicular accident.

In other words, if a minor (under 18 in California) causes and accident that results in injury or death because of negligence or recklessness while driving, whoever signed the license application (usually the parents or legal guardian) will have to pay whatever damages a court determines is appropriate to a certain case. This includes awards for pain and suffering. If the “affluenza” teenager had been a California resident, he may still have gotten off with probation, but his parents could be sued in civil court for the wrongful deaths and personal injuries their son had caused.

If you have been seriously injured in a car accident where the negligent driver was a minor, you can sue the parents or legal guardian for compensation. Find an experienced San Diego personal injury lawyer in your area to discuss your case.

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