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Thursday, September 01, 2011

New Tennessee Supreme Court Opinion on the Family Purpose Doctrine

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued its opinion in Starr v. Hill, No. W2009-00524-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Aug. 31, 2011). The opinion is a must-read if you are doing research on the family purpose doctrine in Tennessee.

Here is the summary of the opinion:

A father and his sixteen-year-old son were sued after the son was involved in an accident while driving a vehicle owned, insured, and provided to him by his father. The basis for the suit against the father was the family purpose doctrine, which imposes vicarious liability on the owner of a vehicle for the negligent operation of the vehicle by a family member. Whether the family purpose doctrine applies to the father requires us to address these issues: (1) whether the father, who does not reside in the same household as the son, was a head of the household under the family purpose doctrine; (2) whether the vehicle was maintained for the comfort or pleasure of the family or solely for use by the son; and (3) whether the vehicle was being driven with the father’s permission such that he had control over its use. The essential elements of the family purpose doctrine are that the owner must be a head of the household who furnishes and maintains the vehicle for the purpose of providing pleasure or comfort for the family, and at the time of the injury, the vehicle must have been driven in furtherance of that purpose with the head of the household’s express or implied permission. The trial court granted summary judgment to the father, finding that the family purpose doctrine did not apply. The Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that the family purpose doctrine applied to the father as a matter of law. We hold that the father was a head of the household because he had a family relationship with his son and a duty to support his son and the father furnished and maintained the vehicle for the purpose of providing pleasure or comfort to the family. However, a genuine issue of material fact remains as to whether the father had sufficient control over the vehicle. We vacate the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand for trial.

Here is a link to the opinion:

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