Family Purpose Doctrine in Georgia Automobile Accident Cases

This article by Georgia personal injury lawyer Richard Armond is designed to give the reader a brief explanation of Georgia's "family purpose doctrine" or "family car doctrine" as applicable to automobile accident cases. The doctrine is one that is rooted in the law of agency and allows a plaintiff to pursue a claim for damages against the owner of an automobile who was not the driver during an accident when, in certain circumstances, a member of the owner's family was driving (in situations where the doctrine is applicable, a plaintiff can sue, for example, the parents of a minor child in addition to the child so that there is a source of recovery for damages).

What is the "family purpose doctrine?"

"The family purpose doctrine in Georgia provides that "[e]very person shall be liable for torts committed by . . . his child . . . by his command or in the prosecution and within the scope of his business, whether the same are committed by negligence or voluntarily." Thus, "when an automobile is maintained by the owner for the use and convenience of his family, such owner is liable for the negligence of a member of the family having authority to drive the car while it is being used for a family purpose."" Dashtpeyma v. Wade, 646 S.E.2d 335, 337 (Ga. App., 2007).

In other words, a parent (or other member of a driver's household depending on the facts) can potentially be held liable under Georgia law for negligent acts of a driver from the household pertaining to the use of the family car for family use. A common example would be parents being held liable for an accident caused by their teenage son who was driving the family car home from school. There are, however, many other scenarios in which the doctrine can apply.

What legal elements muse be present for the "family purpose doctrine" to allow for liability?

There are four necessary preconditions along with a requirements regarding the parent/owner/furnisher's authority and agency under Georgia law. The four preconditions are:

(1) the owner of the vehicle must have given permission to a family member to drive the vehicle;

(2) the vehicle's owner must have relinquished control of the vehicle to the family member; 

(3) the family member must be in the vehicle; and 

(4) the vehicle must be engaged in a family purpose.

Dashtpeyma at 337.

Then, the authority and agency requirements, if those preconditions have been satisfied, are:

". . . [T]he doctrine renders the defendant vicariously liable if [defendant] had the right to exercise such authority and control that it may be concluded that an agency relationship existed between [defendant] and the family member with respect to the use of the vehicle." Id.

What is the purpose behind the "family purpose doctrine?"

"The policy behind the origin of the doctrine was the ever increasing number of automobile collisions and the frequency with which the negligent driver was found to be judgment proof. In the case of a family at least, this factor was minimized by finding liability as to the owner of the car who allowed family members to use the car for family pleasures." Anderson v. Lewis, 809 S.E.2d 260, 261 (Ga. App., 2017).

In other words, it is a policy based principle of law designed to give those people injured in automobile accidents by drivers who do not have funds to cover the losses (example: teen drivers) the ability to pursue the claim against a member of the household of the driver who supplied the car (example: the parent who gave the teen a car).

Conclusion:

This is a very brief summary of an area of Georgia law that can sometimes benefit a person who has been injured in a car accident. Factual scenarios such as whether grandparents supplying a car to a grandchild can be held liable, whether family members are actually part of the same household, and whether the doctrine even applies to certain parents of children depending on parental rights or household living arrangements are just some of the issues that can arise in this area of the law.

The law can be very fact specific when a motion for summary judgment is litigated on the family purpose doctrine and a knowledgeable plaintiff's attorney licensed in the State of Georgia is needed to protect the interests of an injured person.

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a Georgia automobile wreck, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.

Recent Georgia case on the proper county in which to file a Trucking Accident Lawsuit

As a plaintiff's trucking accident attorney in Gwinnett County, Georgia who handles cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia, a recent Georgia Court of Appeals opinion on venue in motor carrier (trucking accident) is of interest. The case, Blakemore v. Dirt Movers, Inc., A17A1540, decided January 11, 2018, involves a lawsuit against a Georgia based trucking company for wrongful death. Georgia trucking accident lawsuits can be complex and this case is an example of some of the litigation involved.

Summary of the court procedure of this Georgia Trucking Accident Lawsuit

According to the opinion, the wrongful death trucking lawsuit was filed in the State Court of Bibb County, Georgia, against the trucking company and its insurer. Bibb County is where the deadly trucking accident occurred. The trucking company then had the case removed to Jeff Davis County, its principal place of business, under O.C.G.A. § 14-2-510(b)(4), which allows Georgia corporations to defend lawsuits in their home counties, when, specifically under the subsection used, "venue is based solely on" that particular code section. The plaintiff then filed a motion to remand the case back to Bibb County, which the Jeff Davis State Court denied. An appeal followed and the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed, holding that this trucking accident lawsuit must go back to Bibb County. 

What Georgia law controlled in determining where the lawsuit should be heard?

As Blakemore v. Dirt Movers, Inc., is a Georgia trucking accident lawsuit, and the defendant corporation is a motor carrier, a different code section, O.C.G.A. § 40-1-117(b) controlled. It provides:

"Except in those cases where the Constitution requires otherwise, any action against any resident or nonresident motor carrier for damages by reason of any breach of duty, whether contractual or otherwise, or for any violation of this article or of any order, decision, rule, regulation, direction, demand, or other requirement established by the state revenue commissioner may be brought in the county where the cause of action or some part thereof arose; and if the motor carrier or its agent shall not be found for service in the county where the action is instituted, a second original may be issued and service be made in any other county where the service can be made upon the motor carrier or its agent. The venue prescribed by this Code section shall be cumulative of any other venue provided by law."

In other words, O.C.G.A. § 14-2-510(b)(4), was not solely the basis for venue being in the trucking company's principal place of business of Jeff Davis County. O.C.G.A. § 40-1-117(b) allowed for the plaintiff to file suit in the county where the cause of action arose (where the trucking accident happened) in Bibb County. 

Why does it matter which Georgia county a trucking lawsuit is filed in?

  1. It is fairer to the plaintiff to not have to pursue a lawsuit in the trucking company's backyard where prospective jurors may work for or have friends or family who work for or view the hometown trucking company favorably to the outsider plaintiff.
  2. Witnesses such as police and other motorists will often be closer (and more available to subpoena to court) in the county where an incident such as this trucking accident wrongful death case happened.
  3. As a practical matter, certain counties have a strategic advantage over others based on their histories of verdicts either for or against plaintiffs and defendants in personal injury and wrongful death cases.

Each of these factors is something a Georgia trucking accident attorney considers when looking at the appropriate venue, or county, to file suit.

If you or a loved one have suffered an injury or loss in a a Georgia trucking accident, please contact Gwinnett County based injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.

Georgia Uninsured Motorist Insurance: Strict Deadlines

A recent case from the Georgia Court of Appeals highlights just how important it is to comply with your insurance contract's time limits when you have an uninsured motorist claim. It also is an example of why a Georgia personal injury lawyer is needed to properly handle a claim or lawsuit. 

In Sharpe et al. v. Great Midwest Insurance Company et al., Docket Number A17A1421, decided by the Georgia Court of Appeals on December 15, 2017, the plaintiffs had two personal automobile insurance policies with uninsured motorist coverage, as well as an additional policy with coverage through an employer. All three of these Georgia uninsured motorist policies were a potential source of recovery for damages. 

I have written before (click here for prior article) about uninsured motorist coverage and what it is. Basically, if another driver is at fault and strikes you while you, whether you are the other driver, a passenger, or a pedestrian, and the other driver either (a) is not insured or (b) has insufficient coverage to cover your loss, uninsured motorist coverage can provide another source of recovery for the damages.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage is a Matter of Contracts Law

I cannot stress enough that uninsured motorist coverage is a matter of Georgia contracts law. It is an agreement between you and your insurer. Thus, the time period to pursue a claim can be very short compared to typical statutes of limitations. The time limit to properly notify your insurer of a potential claim, accident, or loss is determined by the contract you agreed to when purchasing the insurance coverage. If the insurance company is not notified timely AND in accordance with the method specified in the contract, your claim and right to recover can be DENIED.

The Example of the Sharpe Case

The Sharpe case is a prime example of why it is important to have an attorney handle a Georgia auto accident or pedestrian accident case. The Sharpes notified the applicable insurance companies timely. One of the insurance companies (in which they had two applicable policies) was first notified of the auto accident six months after it occurred. The contract required notification within 90 days. The Court did not excuse the ignorance of the policy holder. The terms of the contract were strictly construed and Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the insurance company (the appellate court ruled that the lower court was correct in deciding that the insurance company did not have to cover any proved loss).

Similarly, the other insurance company was first notified 15 months after the accident. That contract required "prompt" notice. The Court of Appeals again affirmed in the trial court's ruling in favor of that insurance company. Fifteen months was not prompt and they cited a case where notice more than a year after an accident was not considered "prompt."

Further, to top things off, the lawsuit summons was not properly served which was also a basis for dismissal of the case as to one of the insurance companies. 

Summary

  1. If you have uninsured motorist coverage or are not sure if you have this coverage, speak to an attorney immediately. Insurance contracts can have very strict time limits (and they can be even shorter than 30 days) to notify the company of a claim, loss, or accident. Some contracts have language as to a required way to notify the insurance company.
  2. Lawsuits can be complex and even serving the complaint and summons must be accomplished correctly, which sometimes, such as with uninsured motorist coverage, requires service on a non-party to the suit such as the uninsured motorist insurance company.
  3. Uninsured motorist is a great coverage to protect yourself, your family, and passengers in your vehicle in the event of an auto accident or pedestrian accident with injuries. However, it is best to speak with an attorney immediately following an accident to protect your rights under the contract.

If you or a loved one have suffered an injury or loss in a traffic accident or pedestrian accident in metro Atlanta or anywhere in Georgia, please contact Gwinnett County based injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.