Know Your Rights

Family Purpose Doctrine Affects Household

In Georgia parents may not be held liable for their household members solely due to their parent-child relationship; however, they can still be liable for children and all other household members in specific situations. The Family Purpose Doctrine concerns one such specific situation that may make the head of household liable for the conduct of a spouse or child, whether a minor or adult, during the use of a vehicle.

Family Purpose Doctrine and Vehicle Use

Parents may find themselves liable for the conduct of their children while using or driving a vehicle where injury occurred. In Georgia if a vehicle was provided to a family member for the comfort, pleasure, convenience, or enjoyment of the family members, a court may rule liability with proof the defendant or head of household knew the specific family member was incompetent to drive or had allowed dangerous driving conduct in the past. Liability under the Family Purpose Doctrine may also be based on lack of proper training and safety instruction.

Liability under Family Purpose Doctrine

In order to be held liable under this doctrine, there are four requirements that need to be met. These criteria are:

  • The defendant must own or have interest in the vehicle
  • The defendant must have made the vehicle available for family use
  • The driver must be a member of the defendant’s immediate household, and
  • The vehicle must have been driven with the permission of acknowledgement of the defendant

Liability for Damages

Damages that the defendant may be held accountable for include compensatory damages for medical expenses, property damages, pain and suffering, and other general damages.

Georgia Family Purpose Doctrine Case

In a case known as “Hicks v. Newman” the Georgia Court of Appeals decided that mere ownership of a vehicle, without more, is insufficient to establish owner’s liability for negligence of another driver. However when the vehicle owner provides use of the vehicle for the use and convenience of the family, then the owner may be held liable. Titled ownership of the family vehicle is not required in Georgia. Therefore, even if their name does not appear on the motor vehicle title they can still be held liable for the actions of others in the household.

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