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Georgia’s “Family Purpose” Doctrine

Posted in Blog on September 7, 2022

In most situations, parents or guardians will not be held liable for the actions of their children, but that is not always the case. The state of Georgia does have a “family purpose doctrine” in place under which a person who has the right and duty of control over a motor vehicle could be held liable for another family member’s actions in the event a collision occurs. We want to discuss the family purpose doctrine as well as how this could affect a personal injury claim you are involved in.

What is the Family Purpose Doctrine?

The family purpose doctrine essentially looks at who is “in charge” of a household and then applies the theory of vicarious liability to them in certain situations. The family purpose doctrine applies not only to individuals and their children but also any other family member in the immediate household. For example, adult children, spouses, or other relatives in the household could fall under the family purpose doctrine when it comes to holding the “principal” or “principals” responsible.

If the principal or principals of the household provide vehicles for other family members to use and enjoy, then they could be held responsible for the actions of these family members when they are using the vehicles. You can think of this doctrine as being similar to the vicarious liability that would be applied to an employer who allows employees to use their vehicles for work-related purposes. However, the difference is that the principal of a household is allowing family members inside of the household to use vehicles for various purposes, whether it be enjoyment or running errands.

When we examine a Court of Appeals case, Hicks v. Newman, we can see that four elements are typically required to be in place in order to hold a household principal responsible for the actions of others in the household after a vehicle accident occurs:

  1. The defendant (principal) must own or have interest in control over the vehicle in question
  2. The defendant must have made the vehicle available for use by the family members in the household
  3. The driver must be a member of the defendant’s immediate household
  4. The vehicle must have been driven with the permission (implied or expressed) of the defendant

How Could This Affect a Personal Injury Claim?

In the event these four elements are in place in the aftermath of a vehicle accident in Georgia, it may be possible for vehicle crash victims to use the family purpose doctrine to hold not only the driver of the vehicle responsible but also the head of the household. These claims will be important for victims looking to recover complete compensation for their losses. Typically, vehicle insurance follows the automobile, but if the insurance policy is not sufficient enough to cover the expenses, the crash victim may file a civil personal injury lawsuit against the principal of the household in order to recover additional compensation to cover their losses.

Any person involved in a possible family purpose doctrine claim in Georgia needs to speak to a skilled Atlanta personal injury attorney who can help handle every aspect of the situation. These claims can be challenging, but an attorney will be able to point their client toward the best outcome possible.

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