Legal Liability & Guardianship of Minors in California

by Anna Assad

A legal guardian of a minor acts in place of the minor's parents. The guardian is responsible for supervising the minor and taking care of him, including arranging for his health and education needs. Like a parent, a legal guardian is liable for the actions of her minor ward, but California law does limit her liability in some circumstances.

Graffiti and Shoplifting

A guardian is liable if the minor ward defaces property with graffiti. The guardian's liability isn't limited by law in a graffiti case. The agency suing the minor and guardian can place a lien against the guardian's property to enforce payment of a court award. Graffiti court awards include the plaintiff's legal expenses, the graffiti removal cost, damaged property repair and replacement costs, and law enforcement expenses. A guardian is liable for up to $500 for items her ward stole from a store or library, plus other liability the guardian may have for not supervising the child.

Intentional Harm or Property Damage

If a minor intentionally harms another person, damages property or commits a crime, the guardian is liable up to a certain limit. The guardian's liability for property damage the ward caused, such as damaging a neighbor's home, is limited to $37,400 per incident at the time of publication. Guardian liability for physical harm the minor caused to another person is limited to $37,400 and applies only to the victim's medical, dental and hospital costs. The guardian has an additional $10,000 in liability if the incident happened at school or involved school property. If the school offered a reward for information about the incident, the guardian may also be liable for the reward amount paid. If the incident involved the minor intentionally causing harm by firing a firearm, the guardian's liability levels rise. The guardian is liable for damages of up to $30,000 per victim and $60,000 for each incident.

Minor Driver

If the guardian signed and verified the minor's application for a California driver's license, she is liable for an accident the ward has that causes injury, damage to property or death. The guardian's liability is limited to $15,000 for one affected person, $30,000 for two or more persons, and $5,000 for property damage at the time of publication. However, if the minor only has a learner's permit, the guardian's liability isn't limited if she failed to supervise his driving. A guardian isn't liable if the minor didn't have her permission to drive or if the minor was driving as part of his job.

Delinquency of a Minor

A guardian of a minor may be charged with contributing to her ward's delinquency if she doesn't supervise or control the minor and he commits a crime as a result. For example, a guardian who doesn't watch his ward may be liable if the ward consumes alcohol and then harms another person. A guardian guilty of contributing to the delinquency of his ward faces a maximum fine of $2,500 and a maximum jail sentence of one year. If the guardian proves she tried to control the ward but wasn't able to, she might not be found guilty of contributing delinquency to a minor.

Considerations

If a guardian knows the minor is likely to cause harm to persons or property because of the minor's past behavior and didn't try to control the child, her liability in a civil or criminal case may not be limited by state law. A guardian may revoke her consent to the minor's driver license at any time by filing a consent withdrawal form with a California DMV office.