The family car doctrine places 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. The owner is not liable for his own negligence. He is vicariously liable for the tortious acts of the driver.
An injured person sued defendants, a married couple and their son (the family), for negligence on theories of family car doctrine, negligent entrustment, and strict liability for basic no-fault benefits, after the couple's son caused an automobile accident. The son was driving an uninsured car titled in the names of his parents. On appeal, the family argued the trial court erred in admitting the injured person's exhibit regarding a workers' compensation bureau summary of medical bills and in determining the couple was liable under the family car doctrine, as the son was an adult living away from home.
Is the couple liable for the negligence of the son under the family car doctrine?
Applying N.D. R. Evid. 803(8), the appellate court held the summary of medical bills constituted a data compilation made by an official of a public agency. Because the bureau's summary was indirect competent evidence of the injured person's medical expenses and fell within the public record's exception to the hearsay rule, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the challenged exhibit. Secondly, the couple were named on the vehicle's certificate of title as owners. While the couple presented evidence the son used the vehicle as collateral for a loan, the trial court correctly held that did not prove a transfer of ownership. Further, the couple claimed the son, a college student, as a dependent on their tax return. Finally, the trial court properly awarded non-economic damages under the family car doctrine.