The Family Purpose Doctrine

What is the family purpose doctrine? If you have a teen driver, you need to know about this Georgia injury law.

No parent wants to think about their child getting into a car accident. Unfortunately, accidents do happen, and inexperienced drivers are often at fault. And, if your child is the at-fault party in an auto accident, you may be liable for the damages.

The Family Purpose Doctrine and Auto Accidents in Georgia

The family purpose doctrine is the legal principle behind this concept, and Georgia injury law provides some of the legal framework for this doctrine. O.C.G.A. § 51-2-2 tells us that “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.” 

There is a presumption that the head of the family acts as a principal whose business it is to provide for the convenience, comfort, pleasure, or enjoyment of his family, who are his agents. So, when this head of the “family business” keeps and maintains an automobile for these purposes, he or she is liable for automobile accidents caused by family members when they use the car within the scope of the family business. To hold a person responsible under the family purpose doctrine requires a completely separate “cause of action”. This is a separate lawsuit that may be filed within the lawsuit filed against the negligent driver.

Under the family purpose doctrine, there may be liability even when the driver who is negligent and causes a car accident is using the vehicle for purely personal reasons, e.g., driving to a fast food restaurant to pick up a snack for his consumption only. The right of control over the vehicle gives rise to legal lability. First, the head of the household must make the vehicle available for the family to use, and, second, the actual use of the vehicle is within the scope for which it was made available. It is therefore implied that the person providing the vehicle also has the power to withdraw permission of its use and/or limit its use.

The Family Purpose Doctrine: What Happens When Your Child Takes the Car Without Permission?

Just because the head of household’s instructions about the use of the vehicle are violated does not necessarily mean that the family purpose doctrine does not apply. For example, let's say that the family member has permission to use the family car but allows a non-family member to drive it. As long as the family member is in the car during its permitted use (even if such use is forbidden), the family purpose doctrine still applies.

As with many automobile negligence laws in Georgia, there are exceptions to the general rule. For instance, the family purpose doctrine has not been extended to apply to bicycles or animals. On the other hand, the doctrine has been applied to watercraft and airplanes. Also, it does not have to be a minor child that causes an accident for this doctrine to apply. The doctrine also applies to adult children living with the parent, a spouse, or other actual family member living within the household. 

The doctrine does not apply to family members driving alone who have been forbidden to use the car. Also, the law does not apply to in-laws even if these in-laws live in the home nor does the doctrine apply to family members that do not live at home.

Gaining Compensation with the Family Purpose Doctrine

One possible advantage to applying the family purpose doctrine is when the vehicle involved in the collision is either uninsured or underinsured (for example, has only Georgia’s minimum liability insurance coverage of $25,000). If the head of household has liability under the family purpose doctrine, this may provide for additional insurance coverage if this person has general liability insurance or umbrella coverage. If no such coverage exists, it may apply if the head of household is a high earner or has substantial assets that may be used to satisfy a judgment to cover severe or catastrophic personal injuries.

If you have been involved in a car accident in Georgia with a young driver who may live with their parents, call the Georgia car accident attorneys at McAleer Law. We will investigate all possible avenues of recovery for you or a family member who have suffered serious injuries caused by a negligent driver in Atlanta or elsewhere in Georgia.

Call us today at 404-622-5337 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.

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