When an accident occurs, one of the first issues to be addressed by the drivers and even the police is who is at fault? In order to determine liability and responsibility for the property damage and personal injuries sustained, courts look to assign negligence on the party whose driving was the proximate cause of the accident and therefore responsible for all the ramifications of the accident.
Over the years, legal negligence theories have evolved and become codified in our driving laws. We study these laws as we prepare to be tested for our divers’ licenses. So you think you are pretty well versed in fault? Maybe not. The purpose of this article is to show how many situations could arise that we might be found at fault for an accident and not even have been in the car to begin with.
When an Employee Drives
The law can hold employers responsible for wrongful acts or omissions, this includes negligent driving, of an employee when the employee causes an accident while in the course and scope of his employ. This is the most common type of vicarious liability. Employees are indemnified by their employers as long as the act or omission was a foreseeable consequence of job performance.
A driver for a delivery service is a good example. If that driver is in an accident and was found to be at fault, the other driver(s) may sue for damages and the employer is ultimately the party responsible. But if that same employee used the same delivery vehicle without permission, and was not engaged in the normal activities of his employ and was in an accident, the employer would have no liability in this circumstance. The facts of the case are very important when imputing liability to an employer for the acts of an employee.
When You Lend out Your Car
In some states, car owners could be held legally responsible for the negligent driving of someone who is borrowing your car. These state laws have no requirement that there be a relationship between the owner and borrower like an employment situation. There, once you given permission to anyone to drive your vehicle, you are responsible for their actions. This alone should give pause to anyone before they hand the keys to the car to someone, anyone.
When Your Kids Drive
Parents can be held liable for the negligent driving of their children. In some states parents could be on the hook while their children drive any vehicle, not just the family minivan. State laws vary but here are a few of the more common legal theories that might be applicable to this category.
Negligent entrustment. If child is a minor and the parent allows the child to drive, knowing the child is “incompetent, reckless, or inexperienced”, the parent may responsible under the law for damage caused by the child’s driving. The ‘inexperienced’ portion of the clause is the most used example when it comes to minor children driving.
The family purpose doctrine. Some states have laws that use the “family purpose” doctrine. This means that when a parent of someone else purchases a car for family use, the owner of that vehicle is liable for the negligent driving of any one in the family. This issue comes into play often when a child driver is at fault and the injured or damaged party is seeking restitution.
Note- There are some state laws that can hold a parent responsible for all actions of a minor driver, regardless of the vehicle being driven, if that parent signed the application for the minor driver’s license.
When You allow an Unfit or Incompetent Driver to Drive
The legal theory of negligent entrustment comes into play again, just as it does with someone who is inexperienced like a minor child, should you lend your car to an incompetent person. An incompetent is one who has no business driving a car and that person, by their negligence caused an accident, the owner of the vehicle may be, and likely would be, held liable for all the damages caused. In a negligent entrustment case, the injured party must show the court that the car owner knew, or should have known, that the driver was incompetent when permission was given to drive their car.
By law when can a driver be deemed incompetent, reckless, or unfit? The following categories of drivers might be considered by the law to be unfit to drive, and should you give the keys to any one of these, you might be held liable for all damages caused by their negligence.
Intoxicated driver. Lending your car to someone who is drunk, or likely to become drunk.
Unlicensed and underage driver. Lending your car to an underage minor.
Inexperienced driver. Letting an inexperienced driver, such as a minor with only a learner’s permit and no adult supervision while driving.
Elderly driver. Similar to a minor driver, an elderly driver may not be fit to drive, even if they have decades of experience.
Sick driver. Allowing a sick driver, one whose condition could impair judgment and reflexes.
Known Careless/Reckless Driver. Should you lend your car to such a driver, beware, you could be responsible, just as you could be for the drivers listed above. In this particular case, the courts might penalize the owner harshly when they knew or should have known that the one whom they gave the keys to might be a danger to themselves and the general public.