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Lawskills.com Georgia Caselaw
WATSON et al. v. BROWN et al.
46859.
Action for damages. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Shaw.
BELL, Chief Judge.
The trial court erred in granting a summary judgment to the defendants under the facts of this case.
The plaintiffs brought separate suits for damages arising from the death of their minor son in an automobile collision in January 1971. One of the vehicles involved was driven by the defendant Sandra Winford. The other two defendants are Sandra's grandparents, Katie N. Brown and Paul Brown. The Browns' alleged liability is based on the family-purpose doctrine. The defendant grandparents' motions for summary judgment were granted and plaintiffs appeal.
The motions were supported by affidavits. Sandra Winford in her affidavit stated that in the summer of 1970, she was employed as a waitress and for two weeks in September 1970 she was employed in a department store. In August 1970, she purchased a 1968 automobile, making a $500 down payment with money she had earned. A few weeks later, she traded the 1968 vehicle for a 1970 model paying the dealer an additional $400 down payment with her own funds. Title to both of these cars was in the name of the defendant, Katie N. Brown, the grandmother. The reason given by Sandra for titling the cars in her grandmother's name was her minority. Since the purchase of the 1970 car, Sandra asserts that she made the monthly payments in the amount of $112.91 a month and "these monthly payments have been made with my own money"; that she has always "had exclusive control over the 1970 chevrolet and neither grandparent has ever driven it; that there are two keys to this automobile and she always had possession of them. The 1971 license tag was purchased "with my own money." Both grandparents aver that the $900 cash in down payments paid by Sandra on the two automobiles was not their money or money they had furnished to Sandra. In September 1970, Sandra enrolled in DeKalb College, and she received an allowance in the amount of $50 a week from her grandmother, Katie N. Brown, and another $50 a week from her father. The only evidence submitted by the plaintiff in opposition to the motions are the answers to interrogatories submitted to Sandra and answers to requests for admissions plus copies of duly authenticated title documents to the 1970 car, the car that Sandra was driving at the time of the collision. These documents and the manufacturer's certificate of origin all show that the legal owner of the vehicle is the defendant, Katie Brown. The defendant grandparents have stipulated that there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether or not Sandra was a member of their household or that of her natural mother.
Initially it must be recognized that the certificate of title is prima facie evidence of the facts appearing in the certificate. Code Ann. 68-411a (c). Thus it is a prima facie fact that the defendant, Katie Brown, was the owner, but this can be contradicted by other evidence. Thornton v. Alford, 112 Ga. App. 321 (1) (145 SE2d 106). There is a disputed question of fact as to the ownership of the vehicle as between Mrs. Brown and her granddaughter Sandra in view of Sandra's affidavit. A married woman owning an automobile as her separate property may be liable for the negligent driving of an automobile under the family-purpose doctrine. Ficklen v. Heichelheim, 49 Ga. App. 777 (2) (176 SE 540). An essential element to liability under the family-purpose doctrine is that the head of the family has supplied the vehicle for the use of one or other members of the family. Ferguson v. Gurley, 218 Ga. 276 (127 SE2d 462). Liability may be imposed on the father or head of the family who has supplied the vehicle, notwithstanding it is being used at the time of the injury by a member of the family exclusively for his own individual use or pleasure. Ferguson v. Gurley, 218 Ga. 276, supra. Another essential factor is that of authority and control of the vehicle and this is not necessarily determined by title or payment of the expenses of operation. Calhoun v. Eaves, 114 Ga. App. 756, 760 (152 SE2d 805). Applying the law on the family-car doctrine to the facts here we do not think defendants have sustained their burden of proof authorizing the grant of a summary judgment. While it may be true that the down payment on the car was made by Sandra from her own money, from what source of funds comes the money required to make the monthly payment of $112.91 per month? Sandra declares that this was her "own money but she furnishes no facts from which to support this conclusory statement. Whence came the $50 a week allowance that the grandmother gave her after she enrolled in college in September, 1970? An inference favorable to plaintiff can be drawn from this that the weekly allowance was given to Sandra to make the car payments. Similarly, there is no evidence to show that Katie Brown, the wife of the other defendant, Paul Brown, has any separate estate. Therefore, it can be inferred that he was the source of the money. The statement in the respective affidavits that Sandra exercised exclusive control over the automobile is a factor to
be considered, but from its conclusory nature it will not operate to eliminate the inference that either of the grandparents had a right to exercise control over the automobile. Thus there are genuine issues of fact present in this case as to whether the defendant grandparents furnished or supplied the vehicle. See Sledge v. Law, 113 Ga. App. 746 (149 SE2d 758). The trial court erred in granting summary judgment to them.
Judgment reversed. Evans, J., concurs. Eberhardt, P. J., concurs in the judgment.
Ross & Finch, L J. Parkerson, Malcolm Smith, for appellees.
Neely, Freeman & Hawkins, Edgar A. Neely, Jr., Andrew J. Hamilton, for appellants.
ARGUED JANUARY 4, 1972 -- DECIDED APRIL 13, 1972.
Friday May 22 15:20 EDT


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