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Georgia’s Parental Liability Laws Mean You Could Be Responsible for Your Child’s Car Accident

Generally, each person is only legally responsible for his or her own actions. Many states, however, have created special laws that act an as exception to this rule. Georgia is one such state that has created laws regarding parental liability for children’s actions.

What are Georgia’s parental liability laws?

Georgia’s parental liability laws allow victims to hold parents legally responsible for the actions of their family members in certain circumstances. In other words, if your child does something wrong, you as a parent may be liable.

Georgia law [O.C.G.A. § 51-2-2] states that every person shall be liable for the torts committed by his family with his permission, whether the torts were negligent or voluntary. Case law [Tolbert v. Murrell] has developed this statute into the “Family Purpose Doctrine.”

The Family Purpose Doctrine

Under this doctrine, adults who give their children permission to use a vehicle for their own pleasure, comfort, or convenience may be liable for that child’s actions in that vehicle. For example, if Dad lets his daughter use his car and she hits a pedestrian, Dad may be liable for the pedestrian’s injuries.

What conditions must I meet under the Family Purpose Doctrine to hold a parent liable for the actions of her child?

In 2007, the Georgia Court of Appeals stated that plaintiffs must meet four conditions in order to hold someone vicariously liable:

  • The driver must have received permission from the vehicle’s owner
  • The owner must have “relinquished control” of the car
  • The driver must have been using the car for a family purpose (Dashtpeyma v. Wade)
  • The family member must have been in the car at the time of the accident

Some Georgia courts also require that the plaintiff prove that the driver lived with the owner.

In either event, it is important to note that you must meet all four (or five) conditions. Only after these preconditions have been met does the court go on to step two, finding an owner vicariously liable only if an agency relationship between the vehicle’s owner and the driver existed. Essentially, this means the relationship existed if the owner of the vehicle had the right to exercise authority and control over the driver’s use of the vehicle.

Here is a broken down example of how this would apply:

  • Dad owns a vehicle. Dad allows his son John to drive Dad’s car every day after school (permission).
  • Dad hands John the keys to drive the car (relinquished control).
  • Dad knows John is going to a friend’s house (family purpose).
  • John gets into a car accident on his way to a friend’s house (family member in vehicle).
  • Dad has the authority to restrict John’s use of the vehicle and forbids him from using the vehicle after the accident (agency).

Because we have established all five points, Dad may now be liable for John’s accident under the Family Purpose Doctrine.

Seek Legal Representation

The Family Purpose Doctrine can be complicated and may not apply in every situation. For help with your claim, call a car accident lawyer from the Law Office of Jason R. Schultz, P.C.

Contact Jason today at 404-474-0804.


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