Georgia’s “Family Purpose” Doctrine
Car accidents happen every single day, all day. In Georgia, it is possible to be held responsible for an accident in which you are not directly involved under what Georgia calls the “Family Purpose” rule. The “Family Purpose” doctrine allows the owner of a vehicle to be held liable for damages caused by the driver of the car.
This does not mean owners are automatically liable for any accident involving their vehicle. The “Family Purpose” doctrine is based on the idea that the driver of the vehicle was acting as an agent of the owner, thereby making the owner responsible for any damage their agent causes. Thus, the cases in which the “Family Purpose” rule applies must meet a particular set of factors. Hiring a smart Atlanta personal injury lawyer Atlanta residents trust and who knows the rules, can make a massive difference between just winning and winning big.
What Factors Must Be Met for the “Family Purpose” Doctrine to Apply?
As we have already noted, the “Family Purpose” doctrine does not apply in all cases in which the driver is not the owner of the vehicle. Specifically, five factors should be proven to apply “Family Purpose” to an accident case.
- The defendant is the owner or in control of the accident vehicle.
- The driver of the vehicle during the accident is a family member who lives in the same household as the owner.
- The owner provided the driver with access to the vehicle for the “pleasure, comfort, or convenience” of that family member.
- When the accident occurred the vehicle was being driven with the consent of the owner for a “family purpose”.
- The owner had enough authority over the vehicle and its use for an agency relationship between the owner and family member to be considered existent.
Breaking these 5 points down into an overall requirement, for a “Family Purpose” case, the driver of the vehicle must be the one at fault and therefore negligent. The vehicle of the at-fault driver must be owned or controlled by an immediate family member who has permitted the driver to use the car yet retains authority over the car.
Most Common Type of Case for “Family Purpose” Doctrine
With these criteria in mind, we can easily see that the most common type of “Family Purpose” case typically involves a teenager using their parent’s car. In this case, the parent typically owns the car, has authority over its use, has consented to their child using the vehicle, and has provided that car for the pleasure and comfort of their child. Similarly, under these parameters it could be argued that a nanny who lives in the same household and is tanegentially related while driving the family’s car and causes an accident could be responsible. This is more of an agent course and scope argument but can be made under the right set of facts.
Not only do accidents involving negligent teenage drivers often (but not always) meet the requirements for the “Family Purpose” doctrine, but they also tend to be cases in which the victim would rather sue the owner than the driver. Even when a teenager is the negligent driver, they can rarely pay the compensation on their own.
What Should I Do If I Suspect the “Family Purpose” Doctrine May Be Applicable to My Accident?
The “Family Purpose” Doctrine is not something that can be applied haphazardly. If you think that your accident does fall under the “Family Purpose” doctrine the best step is to contact a good personal injury lawyer that Atlanta residents trust for car accidents. You need to be absolutely sure that your case meets the requirements for “Family Purpose”, and the expertise of an aggressive and knowledgeable attorney is by far the fastest way to determine this.
You will especially need the help of an attorney to establish things such as whether the car was being driven for a “family purpose” and whether an agency relationship existed between the driver and owner.
The “Family Purpose” doctrine keeps vehicle owners responsible for the use of their vehicle by family members. It does not automatically make an owner responsible for any accident involving their vehicle, but it rather applies to consented use of the owner’s vehicle for a “family purpose”.
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