As a Parent, Are You Liable for Your Child’s Accident Just Because He’s Your Child?
Posted in Personal injury on March 7, 2022
As a Parent, Are You Liable for Your Son’s Accident Just Because He’s Your Kid?
Brandon and Linda Sowell’s 10-year-old son, Pete, had their permission to ride his big brother’s bike. Pete said he’d been riding the bike on the sidewalk on his way home when he tried to cross the road to see his friend on the other side of the street.
As Pete was standing up on the pedals of his bicycle with his hands on the brakes, he tried to look for oncoming traffic, but his view was obstructed by parked cars on both sides of the street. He couldn’t see through the tinted windows of a parked SUV to his left. When he entered the road, he suddenly saw Tim Solomon on his bicycle riding towards him. Solomon yelled “Stop,” and Pete did. But by then, the front wheel of Solomon’s bicycle collided with the front wheel of Pete’s bike.
The impact of the collision caused Solomon to collide with a parked car and fall. Solomon sustained a head injury that led to his death a few days later.
The Victim’s Wife Sues
Tim Solomon’s wife sued Pete’s parents for damages, alleging negligent entrustment, negligent supervision, and negligent instruction and training.
Pete’s parents moved for summary judgment, which the trial court denied. The trial court reasoned that the wife’s claims arose from the parents’ giving Pete a bicycle to ride on a public road were best left to the jury. The judge said this was because there were contested issues of fact as to whether the parents:
- Exercised ordinary care to anticipate and guard against Pete’s potential misuse of the bicycle;
- Were negligent in allowing him to ride his bicycle without supervision; and
- Provided Pete with adequate training and instruction in bicycle safety given the circumstances present in this case.
The trial judge denied the parent’s motion, and they appealed.
What’s a Parents’ Duty to Control Their Minor Child?
Judge Elizabeth Gobeil explained in her opinion for a panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals that it’s well settled that parents aren’t liable in damages for the torts of their minor children merely because of the parent-child relationship. Georgia Statute § 51-2-2 states:
Every person shall be liable for torts committed by his wife, his child, or his servant by his command or in the prosecution and within the scope of his business, whether the same are committed by negligence or voluntarily.
The judge said that a parent’s duty to control their minor children is also expressed in the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 316 as follows:
A parent is under a duty to exercise reasonable care so to control his minor child as to prevent it from … so conducting itself as to create an unreasonable risk of bodily harm to them, if the parent (a) knows or has reason to know that he has the ability to control his child, and (b) knows or should know of the necessity and opportunity for exercising such control.
Historically, Judge Gobeil said quoting a 2020 case, “unless the parent participated in the minor’s tort, or through negligence caused or permitted the tort to occur, courts often absolved parents from liability, unless some other relationship, such as that of principal and agent, or master and servant, existed between parent and child.”
However, parents may be held directly liable for their own negligence in failing to supervise or control their child with regard to conduct which poses an unreasonable risk of harming others. Judge Gobeil cited an action that was permitted to proceed where there was some parental negligence in permitting a child access to an instrumentality with which the child likely would injure a third party.
The Court of Appeals’ Analysis
Judge Gobeil and the Court of Appeals found that the trial court erred in denying the parents’ motion for summary judgment on the Plaintiff’s parental negligence claims. The victim’s wife’s claims against Pete’s parents stemmed from their furnishing a bicycle to the boy and letting him ride unsupervised in the neighborhood.
But as far as negligent entrustment, Judge Gobeil said it was undisputed that the parents gave Pete permission to ride a bicycle on the date of the incident. So, the key inquiry is whether the parents’ act in allowing him to ride his bicycle in the neighborhood without their direct supervision was foreseeably likely to cause injury to a third person.
For a claim of negligent supervision, where liability is based on parents’ alleged failure to supervise or control their child, the judge said a key question is the foreseeability of the harm suffered by the plaintiff, or whether they had knowledge of facts from which they should’ve reasonably anticipated that harm to another would result unless they controlled their child’s conduct.
Finally, to establish a negligent training claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that inadequate training caused a reasonably foreseeable injury.
It was undisputed that Pete’s parents taught him how to ride a bicycle when he was four years old—six years before the incident. He first started riding a bicycle unaccompanied when he was eight. Apart from the falls one has when learning to ride a bicycle, Pete had never been involved in an accident. His parents explained that they were confident of his ability to ride a bicycle and had taught him how to ride safely on the road, including being aware of his surroundings, following traffic signs, and checking for traffic by looking in both directions before crossing a street. There was no evidence as to what, if anything, should have given the parents “reason to anticipate the injury which in fact occurred” in this case.
The analysis hinged the adequacy of what Pete’s parents did or didn’t do to anticipate and guard against the risks of his actions by furnishing him with a bicycle and allowing him to ride unsupervised.
Pete had ridden his brother’s bike more than three or four times in the past without incident. His parents advised him to ride on the sidewalk if available, rather than the street, to avoid being hit by a car. If people were walking on the sidewalk, Pete would get off the sidewalk and get in the street to go around them, and then get back on the sidewalk.
Here, Judge Gobeil said evidence showed that Pete’s parents exercised care in teaching their son to ride a bicycle safely, and he had done so — supervised and unsupervised — for six years without incident. Further, the Plaintiff failed to show that the parents didn’t meet the standard of care in entrusting Pete with the bicycle.
Similarly, with respect to Plaintiff’s claims concerning the parents’ alleged failure to supervise Pete or to properly train him on riding a bicycle on a public road, the big question is the foreseeability of the harm suffered by the plaintiff. In other words, whether the parents had knowledge of facts from which they should have reasonably anticipated that harm to another would result unless they controlled their child’s conduct. But here, there was no indication that the parents had any reason to believe that Pete would be involved in a bicycle accident, and the Plaintiff failed to present evidence sufficient to raise a jury question on this issue.
Purchasing a bicycle for a child doesn’t automatically subject parents to a jury trial if their child is in an accident while riding in their own neighborhood, the Court said. As a result, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the parents’ motion for summary judgment against the wife’s claims for negligent entrustment, negligent supervision, and negligent training and instruction. Sowell v. Solomon, 2022 Ga. App. LEXIS 89 *; 2022 WL 521713 (Ga. App. February 22, 2022).
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