Young v. Beck – 5/20/2010

May 26, 2010

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That Parents May Be Liable for a Car Accident Negligently Caused by Their Child Under the Family Purpose Doctrine Even When the Child Causes the Accident While Violating Parental Restrictions on Use of the Car.

Defendants provided a car to their 17-year-old son to drive from his place of employment to his friend’s house to spend the night one evening.  They also prohibited him from using the car as a “taxi service” for his friends or their girlfriends.  Nevertheless, their son used the vehicle so that he and his friends could “egg” houses and parked vehicles.  In the course of doing so, the son caused an accident resulting in serious injuries to Plaintiff.  Plaintiff sued the son for negligence, and alleged that Defendants were liable for their son’s negligence under the family purpose doctrine because he was driving a car furnished for his pleasure and convenience, with their implied or express consent.  Both parties moved for summary judgment on the applicability of the family purpose doctrine, and the trial court ruled in Plaintiff’s favor.  Defendants timely appealed.

The ArizonaAppeals Court affirmed.  The family purpose doctrine provides generally that a head of household who furnishes or maintains a vehicle for the use, pleasure, and convenience of the family is liable for the negligence of family members who have the general authority to drive the vehicle.  The doctrine applies when (1) there is a “family with sufficient unity so that there is a head of the family”; (2) the head of the family furnished the injury-causing vehicle to a family member; and (3) the vehicle was used on the occasion in question with the implied or express consent of the head of the family for a family purpose.  Defendants contested the third element, arguing that they did not expressly or implicitly consent to their son’s use of the vehicle when he caused the accident.  Although the Court found that Defendants did not expressly consent to their son’s use of the vehicle for that purpose, it held that they gave implied consent because the car was used for a family purpose – Defendants provided their son the car for both their convenience and their son’s.

The Court rejected Defendants’ argument that they were not liable because the son caused the accident while using the car in violation of the restrictions they had imposed.  It explained that Defendants’ initial decision to furnish the vehicle for the pleasure and convenience of the family, rather than whether the son was acting in the course of family business, was the determinative factor.  The Court further explained that the family purpose doctrine is construed broadly and does not require authorization for each specific use of the vehicle, a holding consistent with other jurisdictions.  The Court also rejected Defendants’ argument that the family purpose doctrine violates the public policy set forth in Arizona’s statutes, finding that no Arizona statutes abrogate, replace, preempt, or limit the family purpose doctrine.

Judge Brown authored the opinion; Presiding Judge Swann and Judge Winthrop concurred.