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What is the 'Family Car Doctrine'?

In Washington, a family member (e.g., parent) may be responsible for the at-fault party’s actions in a fatal car accident case if the vehicle operated by the at-fault person was owned and/or maintained by that family member. This situation most commonly arises when the at-fault driver is a young adult and the vehicle has been purchased and/or is maintained by the parent.

How To Determine If The Family Car Doctrine Applies

If the family car doctrine is in question in an accident case courts can look to several key indicators to determine if it should apply such as who's name is on the title of the vehicle, who initially paid for or continues to pay for the vehicle or even simply what the intention of the parent or guardian was for the vehicle in question.

To use an example, if a young adult did not initially pay for their vehicle but eventually took ownership from their parent or guardian, and managed the use and care of the vehicle and caused an accident, the courts would have to weigh the factors to determine if the family car doctrine should apply. 

Even if several boxes of requirements are checked, it will still be up to the discretion of the judge, jury, or arbitrator overseeing the case to determine if the family car doctrine should apply. 

Why Family Caw Doctrine Matters

If you are the victim of an accident and are struck by a minor or even a young adult who only carries limited insurance, the family car doctrine means that your recovery options may not be limited to simply the coverage carried by the at fault driver. 

Victims in these cases could pursue additional recovery options from the parents or guardians who own or manage the vehicle involved in the accident. These options could include additional policies carried by the parents such as an umbrella policy or even personal assets if significant assets are present. 

The family car doctrine is not a one size fits all solution for accidents involving minors but could make the difference for accident victims who cannot be made whole through traditional means using liability or uninsured/ underinsured motorist coverage. 

For more information about the family car doctrine or if you need to speak to an attorney about a car accident or personal injury,  the award-winning car accident attorneys at Davis Law Group are here to help offering free case evaluations for accident victims and their families. 

To request your free case evaluation dial 206-727-4000 or use the chat or contact options on this page. 

Chris Davis
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Chris Davis is the founder of Davis Law Group, P.S. in Seattle, WA.