Parents Liability for a Georgia Auto Accident: The Family Use Doctrine


April 02, 2011

Despite extensive measures to reduce accident rates involving teen drivers, they continue to cause many serious auto accidents throughout Georgia, resulting in catastrophic injuries and wrongful death. Because of coverage issues or insurance limits, it is sometimes necessary to seek compensation directly from assets of the negligent party in a Georgia auto accident case. Unfortunately, this can be problematic if you are involved in a serious auto accident with a teen driver on Atlanta roadways because most teenagers are “judgment proof,” which essentially means they lack the income or assets to satisfy a personal injury judgment.

If a person suffers catastrophic injuries in a motor vehicle accident, the medical and rehabilitative costs alone can be astronomical. While some people have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage for such situations, it is also important to seek recovery against a parent who may share liability depending on the circumstances.

At Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, we represent those who suffer serious injury as well as the families of wrongful death victims throughout Georgia. Our experienced Atlanta auto accident law firm has diligently represented thousands of Georgia car accident victims throughout the state for over 27 years. We know that the available insurance policy limits are extremely important when seeking compensation and will extensively investigate to determine the most effective strategy so we can obtain the best possible outcome in your auto accident case.

Georgia, like most jurisdictions, does not impose liability on a parent for an auto accident caused by their child merely based on the relationship of parent and child. Georgia personal injury law does permit imposition of liability on a parent for an auto accident caused by their child under certain circumstances based on the Family Purpose Doctrine. The basic theory is that a parent may be liable if he or she makes a family vehicle available to their child (or other immediate family member) who uses the vehicle with the implicit approval of the parent who owns or controls the car.

Liability may be imposed on a parent under the Family Purpose Doctrine if the following elements are established:

  • The parent must have ownership or control of the car;
  • The car must be provided for use by the child;
  • The child must live in the same home though not exclusively;
  • Your child must drive the vehicle with your approval or permission.

If all of these elements are established, then a parent may be held liable for their teenager’s auto accident. This can greatly increase the resources available to satisfy a judgment. This doctrine is broad enough that it may even permit liability to be imposed where your teenager allows a friend to drive the family car as long as your teenager is also present in the vehicle. The Family Purpose Doctrine may also be applied in the case of a college student who may be away at school but basically maintains multiple residences.

Even if the family use doctrine does not apply (i.e. a child has permanently moved out of the house), a parent may still be liable under a negligent entrustment theory of liability. This theory imposes liability on a parent for their own negligence in entrusting the family car to someone they should have known lacked the maturity or ability to drive safely. Many teenagers have terrible driving records with multiple traffic violations for speeding or running red lights and multiple car accidents. If your child has this type of driving record, it is a good idea to think long and hard about allowing them to use the family car.

If you have been seriously injured by a teenage driver, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Our knowledgeable Atlanta auto accident lawyers will work in your best interests to obtain compensation for your injuries from all potential responsible parties. The Atlanta auto accident law firm of Montlick and Associates is available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Auto Accidents

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.