Can You Sue the Other Driver Under Georgia’s Family Purpose Doctrine?

Family purpose doctrine in a car accident case

Normally, if you get into a car accident, you have to pursue the other driver for damages. However, Georgia has a special rule when it comes to family members who share a vehicle. Your Canton car accident attorney can review your case to see if the family purpose doctrine applies.

What Is the Family Purpose Doctrine?

Most people are familiar with the concept of vicarious liability. This is when a company is responsible for the acts of its employees.

In Georgia, there is a similar rule that applies to family members who share a vehicle. This rule is called the “Family Purpose Doctrine.” This doctrine is born out of the notion of vicarious liability.

If this doctrine applies to your car accident case, it may increase your chances of receiving compensation.

How Does the Family Purpose Doctrine Impact Your Car Accident Lawsuit?

Every now and then, our accident lawyers in Canton handle a case where the family purpose doctrine applies. These cases are few and far between. Usually, it doesn’t get to the point where the doctrine comes into play.

In most of the cases our Canton accident attorneys handle, there is an insurance carrier involved. Even if the insurance adjuster doesn’t pay our client’s claim, they may still be willing to settle the matter.

If your Canton accident attorney doesn’t believe the other driver can pay your damages, they will look at the person who owns the vehicle. If the car is owned by a close family member, they may be able to impose liability on the owner of the vehicle.

It’s Common for Families to Have a Vehicle That Is Shared by the Various Family Members

In some households, there is a car that is designated as the family vehicle. Usually, our accident lawyers in Canton find this with families that have teenagers living at home.

When teenagers first get their driver’s licenses, their parents may not be comfortable buying them a car of their own. Instead, they drive the family car. Typically, this is a car that the family wouldn’t be all that upset about if it got ruined in a car wreck.

Usually, the Vehicle Is Owned by the Parents or Grandparents

What our Canton accident attorneys have found is that these family vehicles are almost always owned by the parents or grandparents in the household. This happens if the parents buy themselves a new car and designate their old car as the family wagon.

In these situations, the fact that the car is the family wagon can take on special meaning. If someone is driving that car and gets into an accident, the owner of the car may be held especially liable. This is when the “Family Purpose Doctrine” comes into play.

How Difficult Is It for Your Canton Accident Attorney to Prove the Doctrine Applies?

In order for your accident lawyer in Canton to apply, your attorney must show that your case meets the criteria for the family purpose doctrine. There are several elements to this doctrine.

It is not always easy for your accident lawyer in Canton to prove that this doctrine applies. It is usually a given that the vehicle’s owner will dispute the fact that they are liable.

You can sue a car owner under the family purpose doctrine

What Are the Five Elements of a Family Purpose Doctrine Claim?

According to OCGA § 51-2-2, a person can be found liable for the actions of their servant. This can be a servant to a business owner or to the head of a household.

The elements of the family purpose doctrine are clearly spelled out in the Georgia statute. They will be briefly discussed below.

Ownership and Control

In order to hold somebody liable for your damages, your Canton accident attorney needs to show that they owned the vehicle in question. You can prove this by showing that the car is registered in the defendant’s name.

Another way of proving ownership and control is by proving that the defendant pays for the car and insures the car.

The Driver Is a Member of the Immediate Household

Your accident lawyer in Canton must also demonstrate that the person who was driving at the time of the crash is part of the owner’s immediate household. This could include a child, spouse, nephew, or grandchild.

The only way the family purpose doctrine will apply is if the driver is related to the car’s owner. It isn’t enough that the driver was a neighbor or close friend. This departs from the doctrine’s purpose.

Driver Had Permission or Consent of Owner to Drive the Vehicle

Your accident lawyer in Canton will have to show that the driver had permission to drive the car. This can be done by demonstrating that the owner expressly gave the driver consent. Or they can show that all family members had implied consent to drive the car or SUV.

To avoid liability, the defendant would have to somehow show that they forbid the driver from using their vehicle. Or they can argue that the car has never been free for any members of the household to drive.

Driver Was Using the Car for a Family Purpose

To successfully use the family purpose doctrine, your Canton accident attorney will need to prove that the driver was using the vehicle for a family purpose.

This includes anything from grocery shopping to picking up one’s brothers and sisters from school.

An Agency Relationship Existed Between the Driver and the Owner

Technically, you must show that the defendant had an agency relationship with the driver. This simply means that the defendant had sufficient ownership or control of the vehicle. It also implies that the driver had to secure permission to drive the vehicle.

Your Canton Accident Attorney Must Still Prove Negligence

Even if your Canton accident attorney can prove the six elements of the Family Purpose Doctrine, that isn’t enough. You still need to prove that the driver was negligent.

To do this, your accident lawyer in Canton will need to demonstrate the same four elements that apply in all negligence cases.

Reach Out to an Experienced Accident Lawyer in Canton

If you’ve been injured in any sort of motor vehicle accident, you may be entitled to damages. Whether you’re paid through the other driver’s insurance or the driver themselves shouldn’t matter. Your accident lawyer in Canton will do their best to get you the compensation you deserve.

We recommend you call our office as soon as possible after your accident. Schedule a date and time to come in and meet with one of our Georgia accident attorneys. We offer all new clients a free, initial consultation so it won’t cost you a thing.

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