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When Can Courts Hold Parents Liable for the Actions of Their Children?

Home » When Can Courts Hold Parents Liable for the Actions of Their Children?

Not all personal injuries are caused by negligent or irresponsible adults. In some cases, the actions of an unrestrained or unsupervised child can hurt other people. We naturally want parents to control their children at all times. On the other hand, holding them responsible for anything a child could theoretically do seems excessive. How and in what circumstances can parents be held financially responsible for injuries caused by their children?

Generally, parents cannot be held liable for the negligent acts of their children solely due to the parent-child relationship. However, parents can be held responsible in certain situations. There are two main legal theories in Georgia which make this possible.

One is called negligent entrustment. This occurs when parents are deemed negligent for providing their child with an object that could foreseeably injure someone else. The object could be a gun, a vehicle, or anything else the parent knows, or should know, could harm another.

A common example illustrates this rule. Let’s say a parent turns over his vehicle to his teenage son. The parent knows the child is not competent to operate the car safely. Perhaps the parent knows (and he would presumably know) the child is not licensed to drive. Or, the child could be licensed, but the parents knows he has been in multiple wrecks. Maybe the child has gotten speeding or reckless driving tickets, about which the parent is aware. The doctrine of negligent entrustment would hold the parent responsible if the child uses the vehicle to injure someone.

In some cases, the parent could mean well, but is still responsible for furnishing a dangerous instrument to the child. A handgun provides a useful example. Giving a gun to a child, in and of itself, might not render the parent liable for anything. But if the parent fails to provide any safety instructions, the child could accidentally shoot someone. If an injury (or death) resulted from the parent’s failure to instruct the child, negligent entrustment would apply.

The vehicle example would also trigger liability under a different theory in Georgia: the family purpose doctrine. A parent or head of household may be held liable for injuries resulting from the child using a vehicle. This applies where the car is provided for the pleasure, comfort, or convenience of members of the family.

The following elements must be established in court to invoke the family purpose doctrine:

  • The parent owned, had an interest in, or had control over the vehicle that was negligently driven
  • The negligent driver was a family member (including a child) who lived in the immediate household of the vehicle’s owner
  • The owner provided the vehicle to the family member (e.g. child) for his or her pleasure, comfort, or convenience
  • The vehicle was driven with the consent of its owner and for a family purpose at the time of the accident
  • A sufficient agency relationship between the owner and family member existed

A court must find all of these elements to exist in order to establish liability under the family purpose doctrine. The minutiae of these legal criteria can be complicated and turn easily on the facts. It’s best to consult with a personal injury attorney for questions concerning their application to your case.

If You’ve Been Injured by a Child, the Parents May Be Responsible

Teenage driving accidents remain a persistent problem, and are often attributable to the parents. In other cases, the minor child was given a dangerous weapon or tool without proper instruction for using it. There are other instances, too, where a child’s injurious actions are the result of irresponsible parenting. If you’ve been involved in an accident involving a child, we can help. Our legal team at Schneider Hammers will look into your case and determine if the parents bear responsibility for your injuries. Contact us today.