Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007
By: Staff Writers
It's your worst nightmare, and it's the result of a common law theory called the Family Purpose Doctrine. If you have a teen driver, you and your son or daughter should read this!
Kyle G., 17 years old, had received his Intermediate driver license three months ago, allowing him to drive unsupervised, without an adult in the car. As noted elsewhere on our site, you'll recall that when a teen is licensed at the Intermediate level, he or she is entering the most dangerous period in the learning-to-drive-safely process. This is when crashes are most likely to occur.
One Saturday Kyle drove the family car too fast, crashed and negligently caused serious injury to an elderly couple in another car. Police at the scene determined that he had been driving more than 25 MPH over the posted speed limit, and ran head-on into the other motorist when he crossed the center line on a curve.
Kyle's insurance company paid the maximum $300,000 provided on the policy, but the other party's injuries were much more costly. The other party sued under the Family Purpose Doctrine, and won their case in court for an additional $600,000.
Kyle's family had no alternative but to sell their home and use the proceeds to pay (part of) the court-ordered award. After decades of work and building a comfortable living style, Kyle's parents -- now in their late 40's -- are broke, paying monthly fees to the court ... and devastated.
According to one case documented at Seattle University School of Law (www.law.seattleu.edu):
"The family purpose doctrine makes parents vicariously liable for injuries and/or damages caused when a member of the family is using the family car. Liability under the family car doctrine arises when (1) the car is owned, provided or maintained by the parent (2) for the customary conveyance of family members and other family business and (3) at the time of the accident the car is being driven by a member of the family for whom the car is maintained, (4) with the express or implied consent of the parent.”
"The family purpose doctrine is based on public policy and on principles of fairness and necessity. The purpose is to protect the public in order to afford the injured person some relief or remedy. The family purpose doctrine is an attempt at giving the injured party a way to seek relief from the owner of the car, as it would be difficult to recover against a child who normally lacks resources."
The Family Purpose Doctrine is implemented differently in various states. It pays to check with your attorney to find out how your state deals with this important issue.