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Wondering if you are responsible for your child’s behavior?

The General rule in Georgia is that a parent does not have to pay for damage to property and personal injuries caused by their minor child.  Georgia courts are hesitant to hold parents liable simply because of the parent-child relationship.  However, there are several instances when a parent can be held responsible for damages and injuries caused by the actions of their minor child.


The Georgia Legislative Code provides, in part: “Every parent or guardian having the custody and control over a minor child or children under the age of 18 shall be liable in an amount not to exceed 10,000.00 plus court costs for the willful or malicious acts of the minor child or children resulting in reasonable medical expenses to another, damage to the property of another, or both reasonable medical expenses and damage to property.”  Therefore, parents have potential liability of up to $10,000 for the willful or malicious acts of their minor child.  The purpose of this statute is to discourage juvenile delinquency.  Examples of behavior which have caused parents to have to pay under this law include driving automobiles recklessly and burglarizing homes.


A parent can be held responsible for the entire amount of the harm done because of the actions of their child if they instruct the child to do something, and it is done negligently.  An example might be where a father tells his young son to repair some steps at their home.  If the child does a bad job, and someone is injured when the steps give way, the parent may be responsible to pay for all of the harm done.  This liability is based on a principal/agent model, where the principal is responsible for the harm done by the agent. Another common example of this type parental liability arises where the head of the household furnishes a child a car to use to carry out a family activity, or family business.  Generally, there is no liability to a car owner when someone else uses the car negligently.  The rule may be otherwise, however, where the owner knows that the person who is lent the car is an irresponsible driver or where the car is provided to a family member to further a family interest.  The so called “family purpose doctrine” requires a close examination of the circumstances surrounding the provision of the car to the family member before it can be decided that the parent is responsible for the injuries that were caused when the child has a wreck.


If a parent supplies a child with something that is potentially dangerous, and does not properly supervise the child, the parent can be made to pay for the harm done by the child.  This liability is not limited by statute, and, therefore, may require payment for the entire amount of the harm done.  The standard used by Georgia courts to determine parental liability is whether the parent exercised ordinary care when he/she allowed the child to use the “dangerous instrumentality”.  If there is responsible supervision by the parent and little reason to expect harm, the parent will probably not be found responsible for accidental harm that occurs.  A golf club, a gun, a rotary lawn mower and a go-cart are examples the courts have considered to raise a question for a jury to decide on the issue of parental negligence for furnishing a dangerous instrumentality.  Whether a child is old enough and mature enough, and whether there is enough parental supervision in place considering any foreseeable harm are common sense questions.  A parent who uses good judgment in providing a child access to instruments should not suffer liability for accidental harm.

This information is general and a close examination of the particular circumstances is necessary to form a professional judgment about liability.

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