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Posted by Susan J. Levy

In Kitchens v. Harris, 2010 Ga. App. LEXIS 820 (Sept. 1, 2010), 14-year-old Defendant Shannon Kitchens invited 14-year-old Pamela Harris to a birthday party at her home. The two girls and three other friends were left unsupervised for less than an hour, during which time Defendant Shannon Kitchens took the key to her parents’ ATV. Plaintiff Pamela Harris was seriously injured when one of the other girls drove the ATV into a tree.

Plaintiffs sued Shannon Kitchens’ parents for negligent supervision and negligent entrustment. The trial court denied the parents’ motion for summary judgment but the Court of Appeals reversed.

The general rule in Georgia is that parents are not liable for the torts of their children solely on the basis of the parent-child relationship. Jackson v. Moore, 190 Ga. App. 329 (1989). Liability can be imposed on the parents, however, if they negligently allow the child to have unsupervised control of a dangerous instrumentality. Id. The standard of imposing parental liability “for failing to prevent the child’s action is whether the parent knew of the child’s proclivity or propensity for the specific dangerous activity.” Kitchens v. Harris, 2010 Ga. App. LEXIS at *4, (quoting Jackson, 190 Ga. App. at 330). In this case, since there was no evidence that Defendant parents knew or should have known of their daughter’s “proclivity or propensity” to use the ATV without their permission, or to allow others to use it, they were entitled to summary judgment on the claim of negligent supervision.

The Court also noted that Defendant mother’s assurance that she would be home at the time of the party did not mandate a different result. Absent her knowledge of the child’s propensity or proclivity to use the ATV, the mother had no duty to keep a constant watch to insure against potential harm. Similarly, since Defendant parents did not give permission to any of the girls to use the ATV, they were entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ claim of negligent entrustment.