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Malchose v. Kalfell

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The family car doctrine places vicarious liability on the owner of a vehicle for negligent operation by a person using the vehicle with the express or implied consent of the owner for purposes of the business or pleasure of the owner’s family, and the head of household’s ownership of the vehicle strongly favors application of the doctrine.

     

    Facts. Kalfell and Plaintiff Malchose were involved in a car accident. Plaintiff sued Defendant for negligence, and also sued Kalfell’s parents as owners of the car Kalfell was driving under the family car doctrine and negligent entrustment. The parents of Kalfell were named on the vehicle’s certificate of title as owners at the time of the accident, and they purchased it and gave it to Kalfell to use at college. Kalfell also used the vehicle as collateral for a personal loan. The trial court found in favor of Plaintiff. 

     

    Issue. Whether parents are vicariously liable for accidents a dependent child commits in a car owned by the parents while away at college?

     

    Held.  Yes, under the family car doctrine, the parents are vicariously liable.

     

    Discussion.  Following the family car doctrine, the court upholds the parent’s vicarious liability. Here, although Kalfell used the car as collateral for a loan and used it while away from college, such use does not prove a transfer of ownership. Even if title was transferred, the record showed that Kalfell would be financially unable to maintain the vehicle and attend college without his parent’s support. Despite moving away for college, Kalfell was still considered to be a part of the family, because he listed the family’s ranch address on his driver’s license, and the parents claimed him on their tax return and financially supported him while at college. Based on the evidence, then, the trial court’s ruling was upheld.

    The family car doctrine is predicated on the idea that while driving a family car, the family member is implementing a “family purposeâ€, even if the driver is using the car only for his personal convenience or pleasure.


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