Alosi v. Hewitt (CA1 5/3/12)

This case discusses the extent of the family purpose doctrine.

Fuller caused an auto accident that injured Alosi. She was in the course and scope of Hewitt’s business. Fuller sued her and the business but when he found out that Fuller and Hewitt lived together he tried to amend his Complaint to allege family purpose and respondeat superior against Hewitt personally. The trial court didn’t allow the first allegation and allowed the second but then granted Hewitt summary judgment on it. Alosi appealed.

The opinion reviews or alludes to various family-purpose cases and finds that none have extended the doctrine to spouses, as opposed to children (including young but adult children) with the exception of Mortenson (1956). But that case was based on the old notion of “the husband’s dominance in the management and control of the common property.” As a policy, family purpose is to protect against child drivers, not to create liability because one partner has more money than another or because of how they feel about each other.

The court specifically does not base its holding on the fact that Fuller and Hewitt were not married (“we reach this conclusion not because of any rigid definition of ‘family.’”)

(As to respondeat superior the court holds for factual reasons that summary judgment was correct.)

A concurring judge thinks that family purpose can extend to anyone in the house of any age if there was a head of the house who controlled the use of the car. He concurs because that wasn’t the case here, Fuller had her own keys and didn’t need permission to use it.

(link to opinion)