It might be surprising to discover that you could be responsible for damage done to your motor vehicle even when you're not driving it. Whether you loan your car to a friend, family member, or an employee, be aware of the possibility that you may be responsible for any accidents that occur.
This article reviews situations in which the owner of the vehicle may have to pay damages for someone else's behavior under vicarious liability and negligent entrustment.
When You Loan Your Car to a Bad Driver
If you loan your car to someone who you know has inexperience or is an unsafe driver, you may be liable for any accident that that driver's incompetence may cause. In some jurisdictions, both the owner and the driver of a vehicle can be named in a lawsuit under the theory of vicarious liability. Even in the absence of owner's liability statutes, the common law theory of negligent entrustment can make you liable for any injuries caused by a bad driver you trusted with your car.
Driving Record and Negligent Entrustment
The driving record of the person you entrust with your vehicle can play a role in determining your liability. If you lend your car to someone you know has a poor driving record, any ensuing accident could be attributed to negligent entrustment. Under this principle of tort law, you could be held accountable for any personal injury, property damage, or wrongful death caused by the person you loaned the car to due to their incompetence or recklessness behind the wheel.
Family Car Doctrine and Insurance Coverage
Under the Family Car Doctrine, parents will be held liable for damage caused by a minor driving the vehicle. This is true even if the minor household member isn't listed on the automobile insurance policy. For this reason, parents should be cautious when allowing teens to drive. Make sure they are mature enough to handle such a responsibility.
When You Hire Someone To Drive a Company Vehicle
Under general negligence theories of vicarious liability and respondeat superior ("let the master answer"), employers may be liable, along with their employees, for accidents caused by their employees while operating company vehicles on the job.
This type of vicarious liability is generally limited to automobile accidents that occur during the course of employment. It doesn't apply if the employee was using the vehicle for errands outside of work or for personal reasons.
If an employee gets into an accident while they are driving to a client's office to drop off some paperwork, the employer may be liable in this case. The accident occurred during the scope of employment. In that situation, the employee was using the car for business.
If instead the employee decides to go on a two-hour unauthorized trip to the mall and gets into a motor vehicle accident during that time, the employer will likely not be held liable. The employee was using the car for purely personal reasons and not acting within the scope of employment.
Government Responsibility in Road Safety
Public infrastructure falls under the purview of government bodies. State highway departments are responsible for ensuring roads are safe for public use. This duty includes appropriate construction, regular maintenance, and timely repair of roads. If a highway department ignores a hazard, such as a large pothole that could cause a car to lose control, they could be held accountable.
In such scenarios, many states allow individuals to file lawsuits against state highway departments. These suits aim to hold the government entity accountable for their negligence that caused an accident.
Filing a lawsuit against a government entity is different from filing one against a private individual or company. Governments are often protected by sovereign immunity. This doctrine has historically shielded the government from being sued without its consent.
Some states have enacted torts claims acts that waive this immunity to some extent. This allows citizens to sue the government for negligence, but there are strict procedures and timelines that you must follow when suing the government.
An Attorney Can Help
If your car has been involved in an auto accident, you should consider seeking out an experienced car accident attorney. An injury lawyer from a reputable law office will be well-versed in negligent entrustment cases. They can explain your possible liability as the car owner and offer you important legal advice.