Should Parents be Responsible for the Acts of Their Children in Georgia?


In a front page New York Times story today, a writer decried the decision of a New York Court to allow a lawsuit against a 4 year old child to be considered by a jury rather than be thrown out as a matter of law.

In the New York case, two four year olds riding on bikes with training wheels were racing each other down a Manhattan sidewalk when they knocked down an 87 year old and broke her hip. According to the article the children were being supervised by their parents.

This case is a great example of how hard it is to legislate effectively. On the one hand if you let your kid ride fast down a sidewalk and they run into an old lady and break her hip, you are clearly morally obligated to at least pay her medical bills. On the other hand is the reality that kids will be kids and it is hard to hold a parent liable for something they cannot control.

In the New York case, the Judge has ruled that the elderly woman can sue the child and the child’s parents for the actions and that the case can proceed to trial. This would not happen in Georgia.

In Georgia, you cannot sue children under the age of 13. OCGA 51-11-6. In other words if the same injury happened in Georgia, there would be no way to directly sue the child. This is important because the child is protected by the parent’s homeowner’s insurance policy. Therefore the ability to sue the child leads to access to the homeowner’s insurance policy money. The child is a vector to reach the insurance. In Georgia though, the injured woman’s problems would go further.

In Georgia, you cannot sue the parents of a child that hurts you, except in a few specific circumstances.The rule is that if the child has a prior history of being dangerous or because they have a weapon that the parent knows about, then the parent may be held responsible. Otherwise, simply failing to actively supervise the kid and they hurt someone else will not make the parent legally responsible. Barlow v. Lord, 112 Ga.App. 352 (1965).

In other words, unless the child had previously taken the bike and ridden pell mell down the sidewalk, knocking people down, there is no reason for the parent to anticipate the injury and therefore the case against the parent would be thrown out.

For example if your child beats up another child, there is typically no legal liability on the parents, although if the child is over the age of 13, you could sue the child and try to access the homeowner’s insurance arguing that the injury was negligently rather than intentionally caused. Garcia v. Grepling 254 Ga.App. 219 (2002)

Unfortunately as Savannah car accident lawyers, we sometimes have to explain to clients that the law makes an exception for situations where minor’s are given access to dangerous things like cars, boats, guns, knives etc.

Read tomorrow’s article on The Family Purpose Doctrine in Georgia for a more in depth exploration of automobile liability.

In conclusion, New York and Georgia have very different legal views of what our rights are when injured by children. My solution would be to provide for liability for medical bills and lost income only for torts caused by minors. The victim should not have their life completely ruined because you raised your kids to be hooligans.

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