Last time, we began looking at what Kentucky law has to say about parents’ liability when their children become involved in a motor vehicle accident. As we pointed out, Kentucky law allows parents to be held jointly and severally liable for damages caused by a teen driver’s negligence when they sign the paper’s for their driver’s license application or when they provide them with a motor vehicle to drive.
In addition to that, Kentucky courts recognize something called the family purpose doctrine, which allows parents to be held responsible for their children’s accidents when the parents provide a vehicle to drive. The basic requirement for liability to attach to a parent is that the vehicle was being used within the scope of the “family purpose,” which generally refers to the use and benefit of the family, which cover the ordinary uses of a family vehicle.
A parent would not be liable for a teen child’s negligence if the automobile is used for some purpose other than the family purpose, such as to commit a crime or engage in insurance fraud. For the most part, though, all ordinary uses of the vehicle are covered under the family purpose doctrine. For liability to apply, the teen driver must be a member of family, though, and the parent must have had a legal duty to support the child. In addition, the vehicle must be owned and maintained by the parent.
The idea behind family purpose liability is to ensure that car accident victims are able to target a solvent defendant to cover damages in accidents caused by teen drivers. Though insurance is an important resource after a car accident, it isn’t always enough to cover serious injuries and damages. Those who have been harmed by a teen driver in a motor vehicle accident should, of course, always work with an experienced attorney to receive guidance in building the strongest possible personal injury case.
Source: Kentucky Handbook Series, Kentucky Law of Damages, § 30:8. Family purpose doctrine, Ronald W. Eades, March 2016 update.