Georgia’s Family Purpose Vehicle Doctrine

The family purpose doctrine is a legal principle that applies in some Georgia car accident cases. That doctrine holds that the vehicle owner can be held liable for the negligent actions of a family member who is driving the vehicle with the owner’s permission, even if the owner is not present in the vehicle at the time of the accident. Essentially, that doctrine extends the owner’s liability to cover the actions of any family member who is driving the vehicle with the owner’s consent. The family purpose doctrine is based on the idea that a family member who is using a vehicle for a family purpose is acting as an agent of the vehicle owner. As such, the owner should be held responsible for any injuries or damages that result from the family member’s actions while driving the vehicle.

In order for the family purpose doctrine to apply, several conditions must be met. First, the owner of the vehicle must have given permission for the family member to use the vehicle. Second, the family member must have been using the vehicle for a family purpose, such as running errands or transporting family members. Finally, the family member must have been acting negligently at the time of the accident.

If you have been injured in an Atlanta car accident and you believe that the family purpose doctrine may apply, it is important to consult with an experienced Atlanta car accident lawyer who can advise you on your legal options and help you pursue the compensation you deserve.

Application of the Family Purpose Vehicle Doctrine in Georgia

A recent Georgia Court of Appeals case (Logan v. Younusbaig, Ga. App. No. A22A1154 (2022) held that the family purpose doctrine applied when a father provided a vehicle to his son, a member of his household, who was driving the vehicle with the father’s permission at the time of the collision.

Case Facts

Logan v. Younusbaig arose from a car accident between a vehicle being driven by Jacob Logan “Logan” and a vehicle that was stopped on the highway but otherwise being driven by Salamullah Baig Mirza “Salamullah” that resulted in the death of Salamullah’s mother and passenger, Iqbal Banu “Banu”.

The record showed that on August 5, 2019, Salamullah was driving a Toyota Camry that was purchased for him by his father, Mirza. Salamullah was driving his mother, Banu, home from a family gathering. The accident occurred on Georgia 400 Southbound at approximately 1:10 a.m. Salamullah stopped his car in the left lane of the highway. He later told police that his rear bumper was coming off and he needed to stop the car to address that issue. As his car was pulled over, it partially blocked the left lane of the highway.

Logan was driving in the left lane of the highway, using cruise control. He crashed into Salamullah’s vehicle within that lane. Banu was still in the vehicle at the time of the crash, suffered fatal injuries, and was declared dead at the scene. Logan complained of injuries and was transported to the hospital. Salamullah was criminally charged in connection with the accident.

Mirza Younusbaig “Mirza,” as Banu’s surviving spouse and administrator of her estate, sued Logan and IQVIA, alleging that Logan was negligent in the operation of his vehicle and was acting within the scope of his employment with IQVIA at the time of the crash. The parties engaged in discovery, and Logan raised counterclaims against Salamullah, as the negligent driver, and Mirza, as a person who exerted control over the vehicle through his relationship with Salamullah.

Trial Court Decision

Mirza, individually and as administrator of Banu’s estate, sued Logan and his employer, IQVIA, Inc., for negligence. Logan countersued Mirza under the theories of family purpose doctrine and negligent entrustment of the vehicle to Salamullah. The trial court entered summary judgment to Mirza on both of those issues. On the family purpose doctrine claim, the trial court found that the evidence did not demonstrate that Mirza had authority and control over the vehicle owned and driven by Salamullah. Logan and IQVIA appealed those decisions.

Georgia Court of Appeals Decision

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision to dismiss Logan’s vicarious liability claim against Mirza. The Court held that a jury could find that Mirza was vicariously liable for Salamullah’s negligence pursuant to the family purpose doctrine. Georgia’s family purpose doctrine applies when four criteria are met:

  • The owner of the vehicle must have given permission to a family member to drive the vehicle;
  • The vehicle’s owner must have relinquished control of the vehicle to the family member;
  • The family member must be in the vehicle; and,
  • The vehicle must be engaged in a family purpose

The evidence in that case demonstrated that Mirza purchased the Camry for Salamullah, paid for its insurance and maintenance, and routinely supplied gas money for its use. Salamullah lived at home with his parents and other family members, and Mirza described that his son would request permission when he was going out and would inform his parents of his comings and goings. Salamullah did not specifically pay rent or expenses, but gave his father the money he earned at his job.

As for the use of the car, Mirza never drove the Camry, but rode with Salamullah in the car many times. Mirza stated that he believed Salamullah was a safe driver and that if Mirza believed that Salamullah was unsafe, he would not have allowed him to drive. Banu did not drive, so Salamullah often would drive her for errands. On the night of the accident, Salamullah was driving his mother home from a family gathering because his father, who drove Banu to the gathering, had to leave for work.

The Court of Appeals ruled that Mirza had “described a family dynamic in which Mirza had the authority to control Salamullah’s use of the vehicle; for example, to drive his mother for errands, to grant or deny permission to go out, or to remove his access to the vehicle if necessary for his safety. Further, testimony that Salamullah provided his earnings to his father and generally submitted to his father’s authority shows that Mirza potentially exerted the type of control over Salamullah that would make him liable for Salamullah’s actions.”

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision and permitted Logan’s vcarious liability claim to proceed to a jury trial.

Our Atlanta Car Accident Lawyers Can Help You

At Graham Scofield Injury Lawyers, our Atlanta car accident lawyers have successfully represented many car accident victims. If you were injured in a car wreck caused by a driver that was driving a family purpose vehicle, we can help you.

Call us today at (404) 939-9470 to discuss your car accident case. Also, you may fill-out our online contact form to schedule a free case review with our team. If you’ve got questions, we’ve got the answers.

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