Drivers must obey the so-called “rules of the road” anytime they operate a motor vehicle. These basic driving laws are meant to regulate traffic and keep all drivers and their passengers safe. If you roll through a stop sign, travel too fast for road conditions, or fail to yield the right of way, you risk causing an accident.
In these cases, you might expect that you may be, to some extent, negligent for causing the accident since you were the one behind the wheel when the crash occurred. And while driver error is commonly associated with being found at fault for an accident, there are some situations when a vehicle owner can be liable for an accident even if they were not driving. This is an area of the law known as vicarious liability.
Understanding Vicarious Liability in Car Accidents
Vicarious liability laws hold one person responsible, or liable, for the actions of another. In automobile accidents, this means the owner of a vehicle can be held liable for damages their vehicle causes even if they weren’t the ones driving it.
There are a number of situations that may result in a vicarious liability claim. For vehicle owners, it is important to know under what circumstances they may be held responsible when their vehicle is involved in an accident.
Always consult with a car accident attorney who can explain your state-specific laws regarding vicarious liability and vehicle accidents. Some states may only hold vehicle owners responsible for injuries caused during an accident and not property damage like vehicle repairs. A car accident lawyer will examine the facts of your case and help make the determination whether vicarious liability applies.
Be Careful Who You Loan Your Vehicle To
Many states have vicarious liability laws in place. These laws can hold both a vehicle’s owner and the driver liable for an accident. Even in states that do not have vicarious liability laws, vehicle owners may still be found at fault under a theory known as negligent entrustment.
To avoid a vicarious liability or negligent entrustment claim, always be cautious to whom you lend your vehicle. If you let someone who is regarded as an unsafe driver take control of your car, you risk being found at fault if they cause an accident.
Family Car Doctrine
Some states have a specific legal theory in place known as the Family Car Doctrine. Under this doctrine, vehicle owners who lend their cars to family members will be liable for any injuries that result should that family member be involved in a car accident. Parents must take this into consideration before allowing teenage drivers to take control of the family vehicle.
Employers and their employees can both be found liable for an accident that occurs in a company-owned vehicle. The employer’s liability is usually limited to accidents that happen during the employee’s scope of employment. If, for example, an employee was running a personal errand in a company vehicle and was involved in an accident, the employer may be relieved of liability.
In cases of vicarious liability, determining fault can be a complex process. The person or persons ultimately responsible for any accident-related injuries will largely depend on the vehicle’s owner and who was driving at the time of the accident. For employers who allow employees to operate company vehicles and individuals who let family members borrow their cars, a car accident attorney will be able to determine fault and whether vicarious liability applies.