Skip to Content Top



The Tennessee Family Purpose Doctrine is a legal theory that imposes vicarious liability on the head of a household for the negligent actions of a family member driving a family vehicle. This doctrine is rooted in the idea that the head of the household, who provides and maintains a vehicle for family use, can be held liable for accidents caused by other family members using that vehicle.

As stated in Camper v. Minor, 915 S.W.2d 437 (Tenn. 1996):

The family purpose doctrine is applicable when two requirements have been satisfied. First, the head of the household must maintain an automobile for the purpose of providing pleasure or comfort for his or her family. Second, the family purpose driver must have been using the motor vehicle at the time of the injury in furtherance of that purpose with the permission, either expressed or implied, of the owner.

The primary legal implication of the Family Purpose Doctrine in Tennessee is vicarious liability, where the head of the household can be held financially responsible for damages caused by a family member’s negligent driving. This liability is based on the concept of agency, where the driver is seen as an agent of the head of the household. Thus, any negligence by the driver is imputed to the vehicle owner. In other words, the owner of the vehicle can be held liable for an accident and damages to the same extent of the vehicle owner when there is liability under the Family Purpose Doctrine.

Tommy Santel is a co-founding partner of Santel | Garner. Tommy is a former government prosecutor. He is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 General Civil Mediator and his practice areas include criminal defense and civil litigation.

This blog is made available by Santel | Garner for educational purposes only as well as to provide general information and a general overview of the law, not provide specific legal advice. By using this blog and website, you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and Santel | Garner. This blog and website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.