Family Purpose Doctrine Renders Parents Liable for Son's Negligent Driving Even When Son Exceeds Scope of Permission to Use the Car

Torts-Family Purpose Doctrine

Young v. Beck, __ Az. Adv. Rptr. __, 1 CA-CV 09-0188 (Ct. App., Div. I, May 20, 2010) (J. Brown)


Jason was 17 years old driving a car provided by his parents. On the night in question he was only authorized by his parents to drive to work and then a friend's house where he was to spend the night. These restrictions were explicit in response to an accident he had been involved in a month earlier. Nonetheless, after work and driving to his friend's house he decided to leave the friend's house and go out "egging" houses and parked vehicles from his parent's car with his friends. During these escapades he collided with another car driven by the plaintiff. Plaintiff sued Jason and his parents.

The parents sought summary judgment on the basis they could not be liable for their son's negligence in the use of the family car when he was using it contrary to the use they had authorized. The trial court and Court of Appeals disagreed.

It is settled law in Arizona that when a parent provides a car for the " use, pleasure and convenience of the family, the [parent] will be liable for the negligence of the family members who have the general authority to drive the [car] while it used for a family purpose. . . The doctrine's social usefulness is its primary justification; it provides for an injured party's recovery from the financially responsible person-the family head-deemed most able to control to whom the car is made available." To apply there must be (1) a family of sufficient unity so there is a head of the household; (2) the car must be furnished by this head; (3) the car must have been used by the family member with express or implied consent of the head for a family purpose. Here the only disputed issue was that if express or implied consent.

Where Jason's parents testified they allowed Jason to drive the car for various recreational, school and employment activities as a convenience for him and for them so they would not have to chauffer him and they had specifically consented to his use of the car the night in question, he had was using the car for a family purpose and with their consent. This is all that is needed to apply the doctrine. The doctrine does not contemplate the parents must give permission for every route and deviation from that route to apply. In fact, even when the family member uses the car in "contravention of its expected use" the social usefulness of the doctrine mandates the rule apply.

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