Ellis v. D'Angelo

116 Cal. App. 2d 310, 253 P.2d 675 (1953)



In California there is no vicarious liability on a parent for the torts of a child. There is another rule of law relating to the torts of minors, which is somewhat in the nature of an exception, that a parent may become liable for an injury caused by the child where the parent's negligence made it possible for the child to cause the injury complained of, and probable that it would do so.


Parents hired a babysitter to baby-sit for their four year old son. The babysitter had never babysat for the child before, and the parents, aware of his tendency to push people, did not warn the babysitter. The child pushed the babysitter to the ground causing her to suffer personal injuries. The babysitter filed a case against the child for personal injuries and exemplary damages. The trial court found that the child was not liable because he was not aware that his actions could cause injury. The babysitter appealed the judgment to the Court of Appeal of California. 


Given the mental capacity of a four year old child, can Plaintiff sustain a claim of negligence against the child?  Given the mental capacity of a four year old child, can Plaintiff sustain a claim of battery against the child?  Can the parents be held liable for the minor's actions if those actions arose through negligence on the part of the parents?


No, the child lacks the mental capacity required to sustain a claim for negligence. Yes, the child is capable of intent. Yes, the negligence of the parents allows the claim against them.


On appeal, the court applied Cal. Civ. Code § 41, which attached liability to minor's actions, regardless of whether the minor could have realized the consequences of his actions, but bars liability for exemplary damages unless the minor understood the consequences of his actions. The court, therefore, reversed that portion of the trial court's judgment denying liability to defendant for his actions, but affirmed that portion denying exemplary damages.

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