The Applicability of the Family Purpose Doctrine in Georgia Car Accident Lawsuits

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion addressing the applicability of the family purpose doctrine in a Georgia car accident lawsuit. According to the court’s opinion, the accident occurred in 2016 when a minor was driving a car with her father as a passenger. As the teenager approached an intersection and began to turn left, the defendant was approaching the same intersection and continued straight into the plaintiff’s car. The defendant struck the passenger side of the plaintiff’s car resulting in the father’s death.

The father’s widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant. In response, the defendant asserted a counterclaim for damages, arguing that the daughter’s negligence caused the accident. Additionally, the defendant evoked Georgia’s family purpose doctrine as an affirmative defense.

Georgia’s family purpose doctrine allows a car accident victim to hold the owner of the at-fault vehicle liable for damages if they can establish certain factors. Under the theory, the party evoking this doctrine must be able to prove that:

  • The defendant owned or had control of the vehicle involved in the accident;
  • The negligent driver was a qualifying family member living in the household of the owner;
  • The owner allowed the driver to use the car for “pleasure, comfort or convenience” of that family member;
  • The vehicle was being driven with the consent of the owner and for a “family purpose” when the accident occurred, and;
  • The circumstances amounted to an agency relationship between the owner and the qualifying family member.

Here, the defendant argued that the family purpose doctrine applies because the father owned the vehicle and allowed his daughter to use it with permission and as a member of his household. Further, the car that the daughter was driving was a family purpose vehicle, and therefore the driver was operating the vehicle as an agent of her father.

The plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment arguing that the family purpose doctrine is a plaintiff’s rule and cannot be imputed on a third-party to recover for the owner-passenger’s injuries. In analyzing this issue, the court reaffirmed Georgia’s law under OGCA § 51-2-2. Although this rule seems to impute liability on parents for the torts of their minor children, the contextual reading of the statute does not impose liability on parents based solely on the parent-child relationship. Moreover, the contextual interpretation and prior decisions of the court make it clear that the doctrine is intended to allow a plaintiff to recover from a negligent child’s parent under certain circumstances. Thus, the court held that there is no basis for extending the doctrine to permit it to be used as a defense by a third party to a family member’s claims. Ultimately the court found that the trial court erred in allowing the defendant to present it as a defense.

Have You Suffered Injuries in a Georgia Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries or died in a Georgia car accident, you should contact the dedicated personal injury attorneys at McAleer Law. The attorneys at our law firm possess a comprehensive and detailed understanding of Georgia’s complex personal injury laws. Our legal team works together to provide our clients with top-notch representation during these critical legal proceedings. We have successfully represented numerous clients int heir claims for damages, recovering substantial amounts of compensation on their behalves. Contact our office at 404-622-5337 to schedule a free initial consultation with a Georgia injury attorney at our law firm.

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