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Did your teen crash your car? Parents could be held responsible with Arizona Family Purpose Doctrine

driver car steering wheel AP
Posted at 5:00 AM, Dec 31, 2021

PHOENIX — It is the time of year where families come back together. The younger students are on winter break, the college kids are home for the holidays. As a unit, has there been a discussion about what they will be doing this New Year's Eve?

If the plan includes borrowing the family car from a parent, make sure a conversation is had first.

Operation Safe Roads has been looking into the Family Purpose Doctrine in Arizona and how it could be the parent who passes off the keys held responsible in a crash.

"They know better than my wife and I," said Marc Lamber. "And they're convinced of that."

Does that sound familiar to you, fellow parents?

Lamber is a Valley father to two teenage boys who are 18 and 19 years old.

"And my son... says 'Hmm. Well, technically - I'm an adult now. So, I can kind of do what I think is right. I'll consider what you're saying.' And I was like, 'Time out! No. That is not the way it works,'" Lamber laughed.

Lamber has that parent perspective, but also one as an attorney with more than 30 years of experience at Fennemore-Craig where he works with those involved in car crashes.

"What I've learned in this business is you can do everything right and yet still because someone else does something wrong, it creates a problem," Lamber said. "You could be injured or worse."

Parents need to think before they allow their younger house guests to borrow the family car. Lamber explained, not only is their safety and the safety of others top of mind but there is a way a parent could be responsible for a crash.

"The Family Purpose Doctrine is a really interesting area of the law," Lamber said. "Not every state in our country has it."

But Arizona does.

"The Family Purpose Doctrine says it has to be, when they're driving the vehicle, they have to be driving it for a family purpose," Lamber described. "But the courts in Arizona, time and again, have interpreted that so broadly that virtually everything is a family purpose."

Then, accident victims could go after the entire family for negligence.

"I think it's important to have these conversations," Lamber said. "You need to tell them what the rules are, but really... importantly, why. Why are these the rules?"

This time of year between Thanksgiving and New Year's is already the most dangerous for drivers. ABC15 has received preliminary data from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety that show more drivers have been arrested for DUI this year compared to last. That does not even include Christmas or New Year's.

Do you have a road issue or a question you would like Operation Safe Roads to look into? You can call 833-AZ-ROADS or email roads@abc15.com.