What Are the Parental Responsibility Laws in Georgia?

by Gina Grady
in Divorce

Under Georgia law, parents can be held liable for their children’s actions under several circumstances. The state’s parental liability laws appear in Sections 51-2-2 and 51-2-3 of the Georgia Code. The main parental responsibility provision appears in Section 51-2-2:

“Every person shall be liable for torts committed by . . . his child . . . whether the same are committed by negligence or voluntarily.”

Section 51-2-3 imposes additional parental liability for a child’s “willful or malicious” conduct:

“Every parent . . . having the custody and control over a minor child . . . 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. . . . This . . . shall be cumulative and shall not be restrictive of any remedies now available . . . for injuries or damages arising out of the acts, torts, or negligence of a minor child under the ‘family-purpose car doctrine,’ any statute, or common law in force and effect in this state.

In other words, in Georgia, parents are liable for their children’s acts to the same extent that they are liable for their own negligent and intentional infliction of personal injury or damage to property. In addition, parents can face up to $10,000 in additional liability (plus court costs) in cases involving a child’s willful or malicious conduct. As stated in subsection 51-2-3(c), this additional liability is intended to “aid in the control of juvenile delinquency, not to provide restorative compensation to victims,” and is not an absolute cap or exclusive remedy in cases involving harm intentionally caused by a child.

The “Family-Purpose Car Doctrine”

The “family-purpose car doctrine” referenced in Section 51-2-3 arises out of a court case decided in 2007. In Hicks v. Newman, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that, while parents’ mere ownership of a vehicle is not enough to establish liability in the event that their child causes an auto accident, parents can be held liable for injuries and property damage sustained in an accident where the vehicle involved is maintained for a “family purpose.” This requires proof of four factors:

  • The parents own the vehicle (or have an interest in and control over the vehicle);
  • The parents have made the vehicle available for family use;
  • The child lives in the parents’ household;
  • The child was driving with the parents’ permission or acquiescence.

Of course, in most cases, the parents’ automobile insurance policy will cover any losses that victims sustain in the accident and, if the child was not the only driver at fault in the accident, the other drivers’ and passengers’ financial recoveries should be limited accordingly. But if a child causes serious or life-threatening injuries that result in liability exceeding the parents’ insurance coverage, under the family-purpose car doctrine, the parents could be held fully responsible.

Speak With an Attorney at Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor

Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor is a Georgia law firm that represents parents in all family-related legal matters. If you have a question about Georgia’s parental liability laws or parental responsibility laws, we encourage you to call 678-971-3413 or contact us online for a confidential consultation.