Generally, vicarious liability occurs when one party is held liable for the conduct of another party due to the relationship between the two, such as an employer being held liable for the tortious conduct of its employee while the employee is acting in the scope of his or her employment. Other relationships where vicarious liability has been found under Georgia law include principal/agent, bailor/bailee and employer/independent contractor. The closeness of the relationship and the measure of control that the putative vicariously liable party exerts over the tortious actor are key factors in analyzing when vicarious liability should be established.
Prior to 1971, Georgia permitted parents to be held vicariously liable for the willful and wanton acts of vandalism of their minor child or children under The Act of 1956. In 1971, Georgia Courts held The Act of 1956 to be unconstitutional and therefore parents could no longer be held vicariously liable for the willful and wanton acts of vandalism by their children. Corley v. Lewless, 182 S.E.2d 766 (1971). Furthermore, the Georgia Court of Appeals has held that “parents are not liable for the torts of their minor children merely on the basis of the parent-child relationship.” Jackson v. Moore, 190 Ga.App. 329 (1989).
Although parents are not liable for the torts of their minor children solely due to a parent-child relationship, parents can still be liable for their children in specific situations. One such exception is the doctrine of negligent entrustment. Negligent entrustment occurs when the parents are deemed negligent for furnishing or providing their child with a vehicle, object or instrument that could foreseeably injure another, such as a gun. Although furnishing or providing a child with a gun, or other instrument likely to cause injury, will not make a parent liable under the law alone, if the gun is entrusted to the child without safety or precautionary instructions, then the parent may be held vicariously liable if that child injures another with the gun and the injury can be attributable to the lack of training and safety instructions. These damages may include the compensatory damages for medical expenses, property damages, pain and suffering and other general damages.
States authorizing vicarious parental liability do so via statute and most have a cap on the dollar amount of damages that the parents could be required to pay. Georgia law limits the these damages to $10,000. O.C.G.A. § 51-2-3.
Another situation which might give rise to vicarious parental liability for the conduct of their children concerns the use of automobiles. In Georgia, a parent or head of a household can be held liable under the Georgia “family purpose doctrine” for acts of the child in driving a vehicle that was furnished to the child for the comfort, pleasure, convenience and enjoyment of the family members. The doctrine of negligent entrustment described above is another basis for liability. If a plaintiff can prove the parents knew or should have known that a child was incompetent to drive or had negligently allowed dangerous driving conduct by the child in the past, the parent could be held liable.
From a main office in Gwinnett County, attorney Charles Scholle serves clients from offices in Midtown and the Perimeter and represents victims throughout Atlanta and Georgia. To set up your free consultation, you can send the firm a message online or call toll-free at 866-972-5287 or in Atlanta at 770-717-5100.