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Use of Automobiles

15 January, 2016 - 09:35

A problem commonly arises when an automobile owner lends his vehicle to a personal friend, someone who is not an agent, and the borrower injures a third person. Is the owner liable? In many states, the owner is not liable; in other states, however, two approaches impose liability on the owner.

The first approach is legislative: owner’s consent statutes make the owner liable when the automobile is being driven with his consent or knowledge. The second approach to placing liability on the owner is judicial and known as thefamily purpose doctrine. Under this doctrine, a family member who negligently injures someone with the car subjects the owner to liability if the family member was furthering family purposes. These are loosely defined to include virtually every use to which a child, for example, might put a car. In a Georgia case, Dixon v. Phillips, the father allowed his minor son to drive the car but expressly forbade him from letting anyone else do so. 1 Nevertheless, the son gave the wheel to a friend and a collision occurred while both were in the car. The court held the father liable because he made the car available for the pleasure and convenience of his son and other family members.