The Houston Family Law Blog

Does the 'Family Car Doctrine' Apply in Texas?

Does the "family car doctrine" apply in Texas?

First off, what does this doctrine mean? The family car doctrine, otherwise known as the family purpose doctrine, is applied in certain negligence cases where liability is pinned on the owner of a car for the damage caused by a family member while operating that car. It's based on the idea that a car is provided for use by the family as a unit.

So, if a teenage son crashed the family car under his dad's name, his dad could be held responsible under the family car doctrine.

What does Texas have to say about the family car doctrine? Here's an overview:

No 'Family Car Doctrine' in Texas

Not all jurisdictions use the family car doctrine. In fact, only about 20 states follow it. Texas is not one of them. This means that, generally speaking, the fact that a parent owns a car that his or her child -- or any other family member -- crashes is probably not enough to qualify under a claim of negligent parental entrustment.

However, this may be a different case if a parent was actually in the car with the driver.

Texas' Negligent Entrustment Statute

Since there is no family car doctrine applicable under Texas law, what does the state's equivalent, negligent entrustment, look like?

Negligent entrustment in Texas has been found by the courts when there is:

  • Entrustment of a vehicle by the owner
  • to an unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless driver;
  • the owner knew, or should have known, the driver was unlicensed, incompetent or reckless;
  • the driver was negligent on the occasion in question; and
  • that negligence was the foreseeable cause of an injury.

Unlike under the family car doctrine, there is no element stating that owning the mere title of the car is enough to find a parent liable, as it might be in other states.

However, these car accident claims are often very fact specific, and the law is ever-changing. If you have any questions or need help understanding how the family car doctrine may affect you and your loved ones, you should consult with an experienced car accident attorney.

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