Grindstaff v. Watts, No. 233

Docket NºNo. 233
Citation119 S.E.2d 784, 254 N.C. 568
Case DateMay 03, 1961
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

Page 784

119 S.E.2d 784
254 N.C. 568
Charles GRINDSTAFF
v.
John E. WATTS and Manning Watts, a Minor.
No. 233
Supreme Court of North Carolina.
May 3, 1961

Hedrick, McKnight & Parham, Charlotte, for plaintiff-appellant.

McDougle, Ervin, Horack & Snepp and C. Eugene McCartha, Charlotte, for defendant-appellee.

MOORE, Justice.

The sole question on this appeal is whether or not the 'family purpose doctrine,' as applied in tort cases involving the operation of automobiles, is applicable to negligence cases arising out of the operation of motorboats on the waters of the State.

For the purposes of this appeal we assume, but do not decide, that Manning Watts was a member of the family of John E. Watts according to the rules laid down in McGee v. Crawford, 205 N.C. 318, 321, 171 S.E. 326.

In any event, the plaintiff has failed to make out a prima facie case of actionable negligence against the defendant John E. Watts unless plaintiff is permitted to call to his aid the family purpose doctrine.

'At common law it is well established that the mere relation of parent and child imposes on the parent no liability for the torts of the child * * *.' 67 C.J.S. Parent and Child § 66, p. 795. 'Relationship does not alone make a father answerable for the wrongful acts of his minor child. There must be something besides relationship to connect him with such acts before he becomes liable. It must be shown that he approved such acts, or that the child was his servant or agent.' Brittingham v. Stadiem, 151 N.C. 299, 300, 66 S.E. 128, 129. 'To impose liability upon the parent for the wrongful act of his child (absent evidence of agency or of the parent's participation in the child's wrongful act), for which the child, if sui juris, would be liable, it must be shown that the parent was guilty of a breach of legal duty, which concurred with the wrongful act of the child in causing the injury. ' A parent is liable if his negligence combines with the negligence of the child and the two contribute to injury by the child.' 67 C.J.S., Parent and Child, § 68. ' Lane v. Chatham, 251 N.C. 400, 402, 111 S.E.2d 598, 601.

In the case at bar there is no showing that the boat was structurally or mechanically defective, that the son was inexperienced in the operation of the craft or was on any prior occasion reckless or irresponsible in its operation, or that the son was on any mission or engaged in any business for his father at the time of the accident. Therefore, the evidence is insufficient to impose liability on the father under the common law rule.

[254 N.C. 571] While the family purpose doctrine sometimes deals with relationships other than that of parent and child, it constitutes an exception to the common law rule with respect to the liability of a parent for the torts of his minor child, in automobile cases. The doctrine is not bottomed on the theory that automobiles are inherently dangerous

Page 787

instrumentalities, for it is uniformly held that they are not. Robertson v. Aldridge, 185 N.C. 292, 296, 116 S.E. 742.

The family purpose doctrine is an anomaly in the law. When the facts essential to invoke the doctrine are established by the verdict or admitted, an irrebuttable presumption arises that the family member operator was the agent of the family member owner and acted pursuant to and within the scope of the agency. 'The doctrine is an extension of the principle of respondeat superior. * * *' 38 N.C. Law Review 249, 250. In this State it is not the result of legislative action, but is a rule of law adopted by the Court. 'The doctrine undoubtedly involves a novel application of the rule of respondeat superior and may, perhaps, be regarded as straining that rule unduly.' 5 Am.Jur., Automobiles, § 365, p. 705. It is a deviation from the ordinary principles of respondeat superior and has been severely criticized in some quarters. Shearman and Redfield on Negligence, Rev. Ed., Vol. 4, § 690, p. 1628. It has been rejected by at least 27 States. 60 C.J.S. Motor Vehicles § 433, pp. 1067-1068 note 72; 21 Kentucky Law Journal, pp. 483-485.

This Court first began to consider and discuss the doctrine about 1913. Linville v. Nissen, 162 N.C. 95, 77 S.E. 1096. From time to time the subject was given further attention and comment. Clark v. Sweaney, 176 N.C. 529, 97 S.E. 474 (1918); Taylor v. Stewart, 172 N.C. 203, 90 S.E. 134 (1916). The first clear approval appears in Robertson v. Aldridge, supra (1923), and even here the Court seemed reluctant to fully accept the doctrine. The opinion states: '* * * (I)t is * * * held, in our opinion by the great weight of authority, that where a parent owns a car for the convenience and pleasure of the family, a minor child who is a member of the family, though using the car at the time for his own purposes with the parent's consent and approval, will be regarded as representing the parent in such use, and the question of liability for negligent injury may be considered and determined in that aspect.' [185 N.C. 292, 116 S.E. 743]. However,...

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15 practice notes
  • Smith v. Simpson, No. 454
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • December 11, 1963
    ...of the doctrine. We are not disposed to extend the doctrine in this State beyond the limits already reached. Grindstaff v. Watts, 254 N.C. 568, 574, 119 S.E.2d 784. The importance of the doctrine in North Carolina has been greatly reduced by the Financial Responsibility Acts. G.S., Ch. 20, ......
  • Gause v. Smithers, No. 27261.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • June 5, 2013
    ...that state, it is not without its limits. Id. at 279. In acknowledging the boundaries of the doctrine, it cited to Grindstaff v. Watts, 254 N.C. 568, 119 S.E.2d 784 (1961), where the court had previously discussed the doctrine's tenuous validity by stating, “The doctrine undoubtedly involve......
  • Moore v. Crumpton, No. 8115SC369
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • January 19, 1982
    ...with the negligence of the child and the two contribute to injury by the child." 67 C.J.S. Parent and Child § 68. In Grindstaff v. Watts, 254 N.C. 568, 119 S.E.2d 784 (1961) the plaintiff sought to extend the family purpose doctrine to the operation of motorboats. A verdict was returned aga......
  • Jackson v. Mauney, No. 168
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • October 30, 1963
    ...6 S.E.2d 40; Hawes v. Haynes, 219 N.C. 535, 14 S.E.2d 503; McIlroy v. Akers Motor Lines, 229 N.C. 509, 50 S.E.2d 530; Grindstaff v. Watts, 254 N.C. 568, 119 S.E. 2d 784; Cohee v. Sligh, 259 N.C. 248, 130 S.E.2d The sole ground on which liability can be imposed on Carolina is the assertion t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
15 cases
  • Smith v. Simpson, No. 454
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • December 11, 1963
    ...of the doctrine. We are not disposed to extend the doctrine in this State beyond the limits already reached. Grindstaff v. Watts, 254 N.C. 568, 574, 119 S.E.2d 784. The importance of the doctrine in North Carolina has been greatly reduced by the Financial Responsibility Acts. G.S., Ch. 20, ......
  • Gause v. Smithers, No. 27261.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • June 5, 2013
    ...that state, it is not without its limits. Id. at 279. In acknowledging the boundaries of the doctrine, it cited to Grindstaff v. Watts, 254 N.C. 568, 119 S.E.2d 784 (1961), where the court had previously discussed the doctrine's tenuous validity by stating, “The doctrine undoubtedly involve......
  • Moore v. Crumpton, No. 8115SC369
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • January 19, 1982
    ...with the negligence of the child and the two contribute to injury by the child." 67 C.J.S. Parent and Child § 68. In Grindstaff v. Watts, 254 N.C. 568, 119 S.E.2d 784 (1961) the plaintiff sought to extend the family purpose doctrine to the operation of motorboats. A verdict was returned aga......
  • Jackson v. Mauney, No. 168
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • October 30, 1963
    ...6 S.E.2d 40; Hawes v. Haynes, 219 N.C. 535, 14 S.E.2d 503; McIlroy v. Akers Motor Lines, 229 N.C. 509, 50 S.E.2d 530; Grindstaff v. Watts, 254 N.C. 568, 119 S.E. 2d 784; Cohee v. Sligh, 259 N.C. 248, 130 S.E.2d The sole ground on which liability can be imposed on Carolina is the assertion t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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