Vehicle owners can be liable for crashes caused by family or household members

Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “What if a loved one dies from the injuries sustained in a serious accident while the case is pending?”


If you have imbibed, over the holidays, a little too much of the alcohol-spiked eggnog, you should think twice before handing the keys over to your teenage child or relative to run out for supplies or snacks.

Wrecked car Charlotte Death By Vehicle Lawyer North Carolina Injury AttorneyOne Pennsylvania father has learned that the hard way.

Michael Ware initially told investigators that his 15-year-old daughter had taken his Sports-Utility Vehicle out for a drive without his permission. Authorities later learned, however, that Mr. Ware allowed his daughter—who did not have a driver’s license at the time—to drive his 2001 Chevrolet Suburban to a nearby barbecue restaurant.

Ware even walked his daughter and her three friends out to the car and asked them to bring him back a sandwich as they pulled away. A short time later, the daughter wrecked the Suburban, killing friends Cullen Keffer, Shamus Digney and Ryan Lesher. All three boys were just fifteen-years-old.

A witness to the accident said she could hear the boys crying out for the daughter to slow down before speeding around a sharp curve. The vehicle flipped, ejecting two boys from the vehicle and pinning a third beneath it. One of the boys passed away on the scene; two more passed away at a nearby hospital.

Investigators said they found the sandwich the daughter was bringing home to Mr. Ware.

Mr. Ware was arraigned on Wednesday, charged with involuntary manslaughter, endangering the welfare of children, making a false police report, and allowing an unauthorized person to operate his motor vehicle.

Criminal penalties aside, owners of motor vehicles in North Carolina can face liability for the negligence of third parties when they allow members of one’s family or household to drive their vehicles. States including North Carolina adopted the “family purpose doctrine” in order to ensure that persons injured by the negligence of a driver who was operating a third party’s vehicle could recover damages for their injuries.

In order for the “family purpose doctrine” to apply, an injured party must demonstrate that the vehicle involved in the accident “was owned, provided and maintained for the general use, pleasure and convenience of the family” and that the vehicle was being used by a member of the family or household—at the time of the accident—with either the express or implied consent of the owner.

A vehicle owner may not be held liable for the negligence of a third-party driver simply by virtue of one’s status as record owner. Under the “family purpose doctrine,” the person with control over the vehicle can be found to be the responsible party.

Courts in North Carolina look to a number of factors to determine who was in control of a vehicle at the time of an accident, including who paid the purchase price for the vehicle, who paid for insurance premiums, repairs and expenses, who possessed the vehicle’s keys, and who actually drove the vehicle on a regular basis.

If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of someone’s negligent or intentional conduct, please do not hesitate to contact me to set up an appointment today. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding potential personal injury claims, feel free to contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC in Charlotte, North Carolina for a free consultation. Call toll free at (955) 370-2828 or click here for additional resources.



About the Author

ARNOLD & SMITH LAW Matthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.

Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.

In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.






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