Home Table of Contents

WPI72.05Family Car Doctrine

6 WAPRAC WPI 72.05Washington Practice Series TMWashington Pattern Jury Instructions--Civil

6 Wash. Prac., Wash. Pattern Jury Instr. Civ. WPI 72.05 (7th ed.)
Washington Practice Series TM
Washington Pattern Jury Instructions--Civil
July 2019 Update
Washington State Supreme Court Committee on Jury Instructions
Part VIII. Motor Vehicles
Chapter 72. Guest-Passenger—Joint Venture—Family Car
WPI 72.05 Family Car Doctrine
A person who [owns] [maintains] [provides] a motor vehicle for the use of a member of his or her family is responsible for the acts of that individual in the operation of that motor vehicle.
NOTE ON USE
This instruction is designed for motor vehicles. It can be adapted for use in cases involving other vehicles or instrumentalities if it is determined that the same principles apply.
This instruction is to be used when the driver is a member of the family. If the driver is not a member of the family and liability is claimed on an agency basis, the appropriate agency instructions should be used from WPI Chapter 50 (Agency and Partnership—Torts).
For a caution about the instruction's bracketed word “maintains,” see the Comment.
COMMENT
In general. The family car doctrine has been recognized in a long line of cases commencing with Birch v. Abercrombie, 74 Wash. 486, 133 P. 1020 (1913), modified 135 P 821 (1913). Liability under the doctrine is incurred (1) when the vehicle is owned, provided, or maintained by a parent, (2) for the general use, pleasure, and convenience of family members, (3) and at the time of the accident the vehicle is being driven by a member of the family for whom the vehicle is maintained, (4) with the express or implied consent of the parent. Watson v. Emard, 165 Wn.App. 691, 267 P.3d 1048 (2011); Cameron v. Downs, 32 Wn.App. 875, 650 P.2d 260 (1982).
Agency principles. The family car doctrine is based on the theory of agency, and agency principles are often applied in resolving issues arising under the doctrine. Thus, a family member will be treated as an agent of a parent as long as the vehicle was being used in furtherance of a family purpose for which it is maintained. Schnebly v. Bryson, 158 Wash. 250, 290 P. 849 (1930). Similarly, deviations from the scope of consent or use of the vehicle in a forbidden manner at the time of the accident are treated in the same fashion as a servant's deviation from the scope of employment under respondeat superior. See King v. Cann, 184 Wash. 554, 52 P.2d 900 (1935); Grange Ins. Ass'n v. Ochoa, 39 Wn.App. 90, 691 P.2d 248 (1984).
Liability under the doctrine may be incurred for damages caused by a third person to whom a family member has entrusted the vehicle, if the entrustment was within the family member's scope of agency. Cameron v. Downs, 32 Wn.App. 875, 650 P.2d 260 (1982). There may also be related situations of actual agency that reach the same practical result. For example, an outsider to the family may be an actual agent if that person drives the family vehicle on an errand for a member of the family. See Davis v. Browne, 20 Wn.2d 219, 147 P.2d 263 (1944); Warren v. Norguard, 103 Wash. 284, 174 P. 7 (1918). In such a case, instructions on the theory of agency may be appropriate. See WPI Chapter 50 (Agency and Partnership—Torts).
Ownership not required. Actual ownership of the vehicle is not essential for the doctrine to apply. A showing that the vehicle was provided or maintained by a parent for family use will suffice to invoke the doctrine. Jerdal v. Sinclair, 54 Wn.2d 565, 342 P.2d 585 (1959). However, mere paper title showing ownership of the vehicle is not enough to make the doctrine applicable if it is shown that the driver was the real owner of the vehicle and had exclusive control and use of it. Foran v. Kallio, 56 Wn.2d 769, 355 P.2d 544 (1960) (vehicle purchased with and maintained by the earnings of a partially emancipated youth was not a family vehicle for purposes of the family car doctrine); Mylnar v. Hall, 55 Wn.2d 739, 350 P.2d 440 (1960).
The test for ownership of the vehicle was established in Jerdal v. Sinclair, 54 Wn.2d 565, 569, 342 P.2d 585 (1959):
  • (a) Who paid for the car.
  • (b) Who had the right to control the use of the car.
  • (c) The intent of the parties who bought and sold the car.
  • (d) The intent of the parents and the child as to who, between them, was the owner of the car.
  • (e) To whom did the seller make delivery of the car.
  • (f) Who exercised property rights in the car from the date of its purchase to the date of the accident.
  • (g) Any other evidence which has been presented which bears on who is the owner in fact.
See also Coffman v. McFadden, 68 Wn.2d 954, 958, 416 P.2d 99 (1966).
“Maintains.” As indicated above, the doctrine applies when a person “maintains a motor vehicle” for a family member's use. The cases make clear that the word “maintains” is being used in the legal sense to mean something similar to “provides.” Jurors, however, could mistakenly understand “maintains a motor vehicle” to mean changes the oil or otherwise keeps the vehicle in good repair. Potential confusion can be eliminated by using “owns” or “provides,” as applicable, instead of “maintains.”
Bicycles. The Washington Supreme Court declined to extend the doctrine to bicycles. Pflugmacher v. Thomas, 34 Wn.2d 687, 209 P.2d 443 (1949).
[Current as of September 2018.]
End of Document© 2020 Thomson Reuters. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.