Family Purpose Doctrine and Application to Texas Car Accidents

In our last blog entry on San Antonio trucking accidents , we discussed some of the elements that go into proving employer liability for the negligence of their employees. Today, we would like to discuss the family purpose doctrine. A long time ago, the law allowed the owner to escape liability for the negligence of a driver especially if that driver was a member of the owner’s family. The rule created incredible inequity and unjust results – essentially, a family could be absolved from liability for injuries to others if they had no financial means to pay. The law has recognized this inequity and since evolved. Now, an owner is liable if he extended his permission to a family member to use the vehicle.


If an owner expressly or impliedly gives his consent to a member of the family, that owner can be held liable, especially if the vehicle was purchased by the owner and used for family activities. To invoke the family purpose doctrine, Baseluos Law Firm works to demonstrate that the owner defendant 1) maintained control and ownership of the vehicle; 2) utilized the vehicle for family activities; 3) the negligent driver was a member of the owner’s family; 4) the driver was using the vehicle at the time for a family purpose; and 5) the owner gave his consent for the use.

The family purpose doctrine is not just applicable to a head of household but also parents and their children. To hold another family member liable, that individual must have been an owner of the vehicle . The registered owner is not necessarily indicative of family car liability. When examining whether a vehicle fits the role of a family car, courts look at factors such as who assumed the financial responsibility for the car; who had the right to control use of the car; and the intent of the family members.

Often, in San Antonio car accidents, owners try to escape liability by claiming the family member exceeded the scope of permission for use of the car. For example, owners will claim that the vehicle was only to be driven to a certain location or within certain hours. Even if the car was used in a manner not approved by the owner, if the use was generally within the scope of the permission, owners will not escape liability.

Moreover, even if the vehicle was originally bought for business purposes, but ultimately is used to for family activities, the family purpose doctrine still applies.

Sometimes a family member will lend a vehicle to another person to drive without the  permission of the owner. In such a case, the owner may still be held liable if that owner allowed the original family to use the vehicle and the vehicle was being used for a family activity at the time of collision. The family purpose doctrine can even apply when the owner explicitly told the family member not to allow third parties to drive the vehicle.

Sometimes application of the family purpose doctrine is rendered obsolete, because the insurance coverage of the owner automatically extends to household members or individuals given permission to drive by the owner. Because insurance policies are often the primary means of obtaining compensation, invocation of the family purpose doctrine is often not necessary.

In a twist, an owners suing a family member for damage to his car may find himself limited on damages if it can be shown he has comparative negligence for allowing the family member to drive the car in the first place.

Contact Information