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The Impact of the Family Purpose Doctrine in Georgia

Do you have a teenager or family member in your home that you allow to use your family vehicle? Be advised that you could be held vicariously liable for the consequences of that family member’s actions while operating your car under the family purpose doctrine in Georgia.

If you are a victim of a motor vehicle accident caused by a teenager, this law can help you receive the compensation you deserve for your injuries and losses. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about the effects the family purpose doctrine will have on your personal injury claim. We will explain why consulting an Atlanta car accident lawyer can help you navigate the legal process.

What is the Family Purpose Doctrine?

Some circumstances in car accidents can make it difficult for a victim to recover damages. For example, the driver who caused the accident may not be the owner of the vehicle, or the driver may be too young to be held legally responsible. However, Georgia law has put in place protections for accident victims under these types of circumstances.

The family purpose doctrine in Georgia is a common law doctrine that allows you to hold the owner of the vehicle legally responsible for a personal injury caused by another family member of the owner while using the family car. As a common law doctrine, it was established through court rulings rather than legislative statutes.

Typically, cases that fall under the family purpose doctrine involve a teenager using a parent’s car. In these cases, the teenager is likely unable to pay compensation for damages, so the accident victim is allowed to sue the vehicle owner. Compensation can include payment for medical expenses, funeral costs, lost wages, vehicle damage, and pain and suffering.

Factors Affecting the Family Purpose Doctrine

There are certain factors that must be proven under the family purpose doctrine in a personal injury claim. With an accident, the defendant must:

  • Either own, control, or have an interest in the use of the vehicle with permission from the owner
  • Be an immediate family member of the owner of the vehicle
  • Reside in the same house

The negligent drivers could be a sibling, minor child, or spouse. The vehicle must be used primarily for family activities like grocery shopping or family outings. If you can prove these elements, the vehicle owner can be held liable for personal injuries or wrongful death.

Statutes and Common Laws That Reinforce the Family Purpose Doctrine

Though family purpose doctrine is a common law, there are statutes and additional common law doctrines that reinforce the principles it established:

Parents Are Responsible for the Actions of Their Children

The family purpose doctrine is often cited in car accidents involving teenagers, but there are legislative statutes that reinforce it. For example, O.C.G.A. § 51-2-2 makes parents responsible for the actions of their children, and O.C.G.A. § 51-2-3 covers minor children (anyone under the age of 18) committing malicious acts.

Negligent Entrustment

Another common law doctrine is known as negligent entrustment. This common law asserts that you have a legal responsibility to take action to prevent danger to other drivers. You can be held responsible if you loan your car to someone you know has a bad driving record or is unfit to drive. These unsafe behaviors could be reckless driving or being under the influence of alcohol or other substances.

Negligent entrustment must establish these principles:

  • Entrustment: The owner of the vehicle (defendant) trusted the driver.
  • Incompetence: The driver posed a danger to others.
  • Knowledge: The owner knew the driver was incompetent
  • Cause: The driver caused an accident.
  • Damages: The victim (plaintiff) suffered injuries and losses.

This negligent entrustment can put you at fault for the accident along with or instead of the actual at-fault driver at the time the incident occurred.

Legal Defenses to the Family Purpose Doctrine

For the families whose teenager has caused a car accident, there are legal defenses to the family purpose doctrine. You may not be held liable if:

  • The child was not living with you when the accident occurred.
  • You do not have legal custody of the child.

The teenager can be held legally responsible if:

  • The child is over 18 years old, and
  • The child’s name is on the title of the vehicle.

Parents can also protect themselves from legal responsibility if they can prove that they have no reasonable control over the child’s behavior.

Does the Family Purpose Doctrine Affect Your Personal Injury Claim?

If you have been injured in a car wreck caused by a teenager, it is very probable that the family purpose doctrine will affect your case, but that should not discourage you from acting. You can still file a personal injury claim to recover from your losses.

An Atlanta personal injury attorney can review your case and explain what laws will affect it. They can also help you build an insurance claim for compensation. They can:

  • Investigate the accident
  • Collect evidence
  • Calculate your damages
  • Manage your insurance claim
  • Negotiate a fair settlement agreement
  • Take your case to trial if a settlement cannot be reached

The time to file a claim is limited in Georgia and personal injury claims can be complicated to prove, especially when these cases involve the family purpose doctrine.

Under Georgia’s statute of limitations, O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33, accident victims typically have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. If you miss this deadline, you will  be barred from filing a lawsuit and unable to secure compensation through a court award. The loss of this right could also affect your ability to secure a fair settlement offer from the insurance company.

Call the Law Office of Dwayne L. Brown to Learn More

To determine if this common law applies to your car accident case, you can contact our personal injury attorney in Georgia. The Law Office of Dwayne L. Brown has been helping accident victims for 30 years. Let us manage your personal injury claim in Atlanta, Georgia, and get you the care you and your family deserve.

Call to discuss your personal injury claim today.

Posted on behalf of Dwayne L. Brown

3390 Peachtree Rd NE, Suite 1100
Atlanta, GA 30326

Phone: (404) 738-6000

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