Parental Liability for a Minor Driving in California
Vehicle Code 17707

California Vehicle Code 17707 VC is the California code section that makes a parent liable for his child's driving. This section makes a parent liable for any damages caused by his minor child in an automobile accident.

The liability under Vehicle Code 17707 begins once a parent signs the consent form to allow his minor child to drive.

There are five important points to know:

  • A parent's liability for a minor's damages in California is an example of “vicarious liability.” This is where a party is held liable for an injury, even though he didn't cause it.
  • Parents and children are joint and severally liable under VC 17707, meaning an injured party can sue the child, the parent, or both.
  • In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that a parent is liable under Vehicle Code 17707. The plaintiff must also prove what damages he suffered before a parent is liable for them. Possible damages include lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.
  • Legal defenses are available that allow parents to challenge the assumption of parental liability under Vehicle Code 17707. It's in a parent's best interests, though, to consult with an attorney before raising one.
  • Per California Civil Code 1714.1, parents in California are also vicariously liable for their child's willful misconduct.

Our California personal injury attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

happy california teen driving vc 17707 parental liability
California Vehicle Code 17707 VC is the California code section that makes a parent liable for his child's driving. Namely, VC 17707 makes a parent liable for any damages caused by his minor child in an automobile accident.

1. Vehicle Code 17707 VC – When parents become liable for their child's driving

California Vehicle Code 17707 states:

Any civil liability of a minor arising out of his driving a motor vehicle…is hereby imposed upon the person who signed and verified the application of the minor for a license, and the person shall be jointly and severally liable with the minor for any damages proximately resulting from the negligent or wrongful act or omission of the minor in driving a motor vehicle.1

Let's make this easier to understand. In California, parents must sign a consent form to allow their minor child to drive.2 Under VC 17707, once parents sign this consent form, they assume liability for any accidents caused by their children while they drive. This is known as parental liability.

2. Parental Liability and Vicarious Liability

Parental liability is an example of “vicarious liability.” Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine under which parties can be held indirectly liable for an injury, even though they did not cause it.

In the context of a personal injury lawsuit, a person who is vicariously liable may be legally responsible for a plaintiff's:

  • Medical bills;
  • Lost wages;
  • Pain and suffering; and/or,
  • Other losses.

3. Vehicle Code 17707 VC and Release of Liability

VC 17707 makes parents liable for their child's accidents once the parent signs the consent form that allows the child to drive.

Parents remain liable for their child's accidents until one of two things happen. These are:

  1. The child turns 18; or,
  2. The parent withdraws his consent for the child to drive.

Parents can withdraw their consent in California by filing a Request for Cancellation or Surrender of a Driver License.3 Parents can file this form at any time. If they do, their child loses his driving privileges immediately.

4. VC 17707 and the legal meaning of joint and several liability

Vehicle Code 17707 makes a parent “joint and severally liable” with their child for any damages caused by the child.4

If a minor injures another party while driving, the injured party may file a personal injury lawsuit. "Joint and several liability" means the injured party can sue the child, or the parent(s), or both.

This issue is deemed fair under the law since many children do not have any money of their own to pay for harm they do to another person.

5. Vehicle Code 17707 VC and parental liability in a civil lawsuit following a car accident.

To better understand Vehicle Code 17707, it is perhaps best to view it within the context of a civil lawsuit. As stated above, if a minor injures another party in a car accident, the injured party can file a personal injury lawsuit.

If a lawsuit is filed, two things must happen before a parent assumes liability. These are:

  1. The plaintiff must prove that a parent is liable; and,
  2. The plaintiff must prove what damages the parent is liable for.

5.1 Proving parental liability

A plaintiff must prove five elements before a parent is held liable under Vehicle Code 17707. These elements are:

  1. The parent's child was negligent in operating a vehicle;5
  2. The plaintiff was harmed;
  3. The child's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the harm;
  4. The parent signed the child's application for a driver's license; and,
  5. At the time of the accident, the child's driver's license had not been canceled or revoked by the Department of Motor Vehicles.6

5.2 Damages a parent may be liable for

A plaintiff in a personal injury case must prove what damages he suffered before a parent is liable for them.

California law allows plaintiffs to recover compensatory damages following an auto accident. There are two types of compensatory damages. These are:

  1. Economic damages; and,
  2. Non-economic damages.

Economic damages are damages that a plaintiff can put a price tag on. That is, they compensate a plaintiff for injuries a judge or jury can attach a specific dollar value to.

Examples include:

  • Lost wages;
  • Medical Expenses;
  • Property damage.

Non-economic damages are those which don't necessarily involve out-of-pocket expenses. They include more subjective losses such as:

  • Pain and suffering,
  • Emotional distress,
  • Physical impairment (such as loss of the use of a limb or organ),
  • Disfigurement,
  • Inconvenience, and
  • Loss of life enjoyment.
california teenage driving parental legal defense
A parent can raise certain legal defenses in a personal injury lawsuit to challenge an assumption of parental liability.

6. Legal defenses a parent can raise to challenge liability under VC 17707

A parent can raise certain legal defenses in a personal injury lawsuit to challenge an assumption of parental liability.

There are five common defenses. These include:

  1. The parent's child was not driving the auto in question (the car simply was not in motion);
  2. The parent's child was not the driver of the auto (he was rather a passenger in the vehicle);
  3. The parent never signed or verified his child's application for a license;
  4. The parent signed and verified the application, but later withdrew his consent; and/or,
  5. The child had to drive the vehicle because of an emergency.

6.1 Vital for parents to get the help of an experienced attorney

A parent can try to contest Vehicle Code 17707 issues without legal assistance. However, it is critical that parents seek the help of an experienced California defense attorney before challenging the issue of parental liability.

It's beneficial to work with a lawyer for several reasons. These are:

  • Attorneys will know the right defense to raise on your behalf
  • Skilled lawyers can challenge damage claims
  • Prosecutors typically offer better deals to defendants with lawyers.
  • Defense attorneys know how to get charges reduced and dismissed.
  • If a defendant has an attorney, the defendant does not have to go to court. The defendant's lawyer can go on his behalf.

7. Vehicle Code 17708 and liability with permission to drive

California Vehicle Code 17708 is very similar to VC 17707. Vehicle Code 17708 states that a parent is liable for damages caused by a minor in an auto accident when:

  1. The parent gave permission for a minor to drive a vehicle; and,
  2. The minor caused an accident.7

Note that permission under VC 17708 can be either expressly given or implied under the circumstances. Further, Vehicle Code 17708 imposes liability even if a minor is not licensed to drive.

As with Vehicle Code 17707, the liability placed on parents under VC 17708 is joint and several liability.8

8. Parental liability for a minor's “willful misconduct” in California

Vehicle Code Sections 17707 and 17708 raise the issue of parental liability. There is another situation when the laws in California hold parents liable for their child's actions.

Per California Civil Code 1714.1, parents and guardians in California are vicariously liable for up to $25,000 for their child's “willful misconduct.”

To be liable under this section, however, the child's conduct must result in:

  • Injury or death to another person; or,
  • Injury to another person's property.9

The $25,000 limit cannot include compensation for non-economic damages.

“Willful misconduct” means that a minor did something on purpose, or with intent. This requires showing more than a child caused an injury on accident or while acting negligently.

9. Other laws related to Vehicle Code 17707 VC

There are three other California laws related to VC 17707. These include:

  1. Cell phone tickets for minors – Vehicle Code 23124;
  2. Underage DUI – Vehicle Code 23136; and,
  3. DUI and minor passenger under 14 – Vehicle Code 23572.

9.1 Cell phone tickets for minors – Vehicle Code 23124

Pursuant to California Vehicle Code 23124, minors in California cannot drive a vehicle while using a wireless telephone or an electronic device.

VC 23124 (b) states:

[persons under the age of 18] shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communications device, even if equipped with a hands-free device.10

"Electronic wireless communications device" includes, but is not limited to, a broadband personal communication device, specialized mobile radio device, handheld device or laptop computer with mobile data access, pager, and two-way messaging device.11

According to Vehicle Code 23124 (d):

A law enforcement officer shall not stop a vehicle for the sole purpose of determining whether the driver is violating subdivision (b).12

This means an officer can only stop a minor if the officer observes the minor using a cell phone or wireless device. The officer cannot stop a minor for the purpose of trying to verify, or conclude, that a minor is using a cell phone or device.

The penalty for violating VC 23124 is a base fine of $20.00 for a first offense and $50.00 for each offense thereafter.13

Please note that the above dollar amounts are base fines. The actual amount of a ticket will be significantly greater because of fees and assessments.

california teens drinking in a car dui attorneys defending parental liability
California Vehicle Code 23136 VC is California's “zero tolerance” DUI law.

9.2 Underage DUI – Vehicle Code 23136

California Vehicle Code 23136 VC is California's “zero tolerance” DUI law. It was enacted by the California Legislature in 1994 to combat the problem of underage drinking and driving.

Vehicle Code 23136 makes it unlawful for anyone under 21:

  • To drive,
  • With a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .01% or greater,
  • After consuming an alcoholic beverage.14

Violation of Vehicle Code 23136 VC is not a crime. It is a civil offense.

The only penalty for violating California's "zero tolerance" under-21 DUI law is suspension or revocation of your driver's license by the DMV. This is known as an administrative “per se” (APS) suspension.

If you do not have a license at the time of your violation, an APS violation such as zero tolerance underage DUI will subject you to a one-year delay in getting one.

When you are cited for violating VC 23136, the officer will take away your license (if you have one) and send it to the DMV. You will then be issued a temporary license. The temporary license is good for 30 days.15

At the end of the 30-day period, your license suspension or revocation will go into effect unless, within ten (10) days of your citation, you request a DMV hearing to contest the suspension.

You can also request a DMV hearing if your license was suspended for a refusal to take a PAS or chemical test.16

9.3 DUI and minor passenger under 14 – Vehicle Code 23572

California Vehicle Code 23572 provides for enhanced penalties for defendants who drive under the influence with a child under the age of fourteen (14) in the car.17

This "DUI with child endangerment" sentence enhancement consists of additional mandatory jail time (on top of standard California DUI penalties). This means that if you are convicted of driving under the influence with a child in the car, you will definitely serve time in jail.18

If you are convicted of DUI and the sentence enhancement for DUI with a minor passenger applies, you will face both normal DUI penalties and the following additional and consecutive sentence:

  • forty-eight (48) hours in a county jail for a first DUI conviction,
  • ten (10) days in jail for a second DUI conviction,
  • thirty (30) days in jail for a third DUI conviction, OR
  • ninety (90) days in jail for a fourth or subsequent misdemeanor DUI conviction.19

For purposes of DUI sentencing, "prior" DUI convictions only refer to those convictions which you suffered within a ten-year period prior to being arrested for VC 23572 DUI with child endangerment.20

A fourth DUI in a ten-year period can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If it is charged as a felony, the Vehicle Code 23572 VC enhancement for DUI with a child in the car will not apply.21

Are you accused of being held parentally liable for the acts of your child following a California auto accident? Call us for help…

Call shouse california law group for help with your case
We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know is potentially liable under Vehicle Code 17707, or has been injured in an accident in California, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAW-FIRM.

Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 17707 VC.

  2. A minor in California is any person under the age of 18.

  3. See dmv.ca.org.

  4. California Vehicle Code 17707 VC.

  5. California law defines "negligence" as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. Regarding auto accidents, negligent drivers are at fault for the accident and may also have to pay for any damages caused.

  6. 1 CACI 723. CACI refers to the Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions.

  7. California Vehicle Code 17708 VC.

  8. California Vehicle Code 17708 VC.

  9. California Civil Code 1714.1 (a).

  10. California Vehicle Code 23124 (b) VC.

  11. California Vehicle Code 23124 (g) VC.

  12. California Vehicle Code 23124 (d) VC.

  13. California Vehicle Code 23124 (c) VC.

  14. California Vehicle Code 23136 VC.

  15. California DMV Facts about California's Zero Tolerance Law. See also Vehicle Code 13353.3 VC -- Suspension of driver's license following violation of VC 23136. ("(b)(3) Notwithstanding any other law, if a person has been administratively determined to have been driving in violation of Section 23136 or to have refused chemical testing pursuant to Section 13353.1, the period of suspension shall not be for less than one year.")

  16. See same.

  17. California Vehicle Code 23572 VC

  18. See same.

  19. See same.

  20. California has a ten-year "look back" or "washout" period. This means that DUI convictions that are outside this timeframe do not automatically increase your current DUI sentence, including for DUIs with a minor or child in the car under VC 23572.

  21. California Penal Code 17 - Wobblers - Distinguishing between misdemeanors and felonies [such as misdemeanor vs felony DUI--felony DUI cannot include a VC 23572 DUI with child in the car enhancement].

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