Georgia, like a lot of states, has passed a number of parental responsibility laws. These are statutes that can be used to hold a parent liable for certain actions taken by a minor child. In some states, parents can be held financially responsible for damages resulting from a minor's willful actions, and in other states even an accident caused by a minor can trigger a parent's civil liability. In this article we'll look at Georgia's parental responsibility laws.
What are Georgia’s Parental Responsibility Laws?
Georgia’s Parental Responsibility laws describe the circumstances under which parents might be responsible for the actions of their children. Georgia's laws cover:
- general liability for a child’s actions (covered by Georgia Code section 51-2-2), and
- liability for a child's malicious acts (covered by Georgia Code section 51-2-3).
(Note: There is no direct link to the online versions of these statutes. The links above take you to the main page of the online version of the Georgia Code. You'll need to navigate through to the relevant citations.)
Keep in mind that Georgia sets the age of majority at 18, so the statutes we discuss below only apply to custodial parents/guardians of minor children.
Parents are Liable for a Child’s Torts in Georgia
A "tort" is a civil law term that encompasses any kind of act resulting in harm. And under Georgia Code section 51-2-2, parents will be liable for any tort their child commits. It makes no difference whether the child commits the tort intentionally, or due to negligence. The parent will be on the financial hook -- period.
So, section 51-2-2 could trigger a parent's financial responsibility for injuries and property damage resulting from a car accident or any other kind of mishap.
Parental Liability for Malicious Acts in Georgia
Parents in Georgia will also be financially responsible for damages that result from the malicious or willful actions of their children. Liability under Georgia Code section 51-2-3 extends to both property damage and medical bills that result from bodily injuries.
The amount of a parent's liability is limited to $10,000, for all damages stemming from the child's actions, plus court costs payable to the claimant who was harmed and brought the action to court.
Parental Liability Under the "Family Purpose Doctrine"
In Georgia, a case known as Hicks v. Newman brought an important interpretation of parental responsibility for car accidents caused by a family member under a legal concept known as the "family purpose doctrine."
In Hicks, the Georgia Court of Appeals explained that mere ownership of a vehicle, without more, is insufficient to establish the vehicle owner's liability for the negligence of another driver. However, when an owner of a vehicle maintains the vehicle for the use and convenience of his family, the owner may be held liable for the negligence of a family member who was using the vehicle for a family purpose.
To be liable under the family purpose doctrine, there are four (4) requirements:
(1) the defendant must own -- or have an interest in or control over -- the automobile
(2) the defendant must have made the automobile available for family use
(3) the driver must be a member of the defendant's immediate household, and
(4) the vehicle must have been driven with the permission or acquiescence of the defendant.
Parents in Georgia May Still Be Liable Under Common Law
Parents and guardians can be responsible for a minor's actions even in cases where Georgia's parental responsibility laws do not apply. Parents have a duty, at common law, to exercise reasonable care to monitor and control a minor child who has a known propensity to act recklessly or carelessly.
A parent may, in that situation, be expected to take reasonable steps to prevent that child from causing foreseeable harm to others.
For example, suppose a parent knows from experience that their minor child tends to speed while driving a motor vehicle. Suppose further, that in spite of this knowledge, the parent freely allows the child to drive without any restrictions. If that child causes an accident because he or she was speeding, the parent may well be responsible for any resultant damages (bodily injury or property).