multiple car wreck in middle of intersection

At-Fault Driver Liability 101 for Personal Injury Case Clients

If you or someone you know has been has been seriously enough injured in a truck or car accident caused by another driver, you may be curious about the laws that can hold that at-fault driver (and, likely, the at-fault driver’s insurance company) responsible and liable for expenses, losses, and damages resulting from the crash.

For instance, did you know that if the at-fault driver was borrowing the car with permission from the owner of the car, the car’s owner likely still is the party responsible for compensating the accident victim for losses? When liability is imposed on a person for the negligence of another party, this is called vicarious liability or imputed negligence. These are tort doctrines that impose responsibility upon a person for the misconduct of another party.

Situations in which a driver might be guilty of vicarious liability or imputed negligence include:

  • letting someone borrow their vehicle
  • employing someone to drive a vehicle

Employer Loaning Car to an Employee

An employer may end up in a situation where they will be held liable for a wreck caused by an employee. The law states that an employer is liable for any damages from the operation of a vehicle by an employee performing a work function. This follows the textbook definition of “vicarious liability” because the employer is responsible for his or her employees.

When an employee is driving an employer’s vehicle and has a wreck, the employer is only liable when the employee was driving for a work related purpose. Disputes arise when the purpose behind the use of the vehicle is ambiguous. Such as, who would be liable if the wreck happened while the employee was on a detour to stop by his or her spouses’ workplace? (some cases involve trying to sue a person’s employer for damages from a wreck that happened while the employee was driving to work in their own car). The wreck has to happen during a period where the employee was working for the employer (the owner of the vehicle).

The owner of a vehicle can also be liable for an employee’s negligence if the owner employs a driver who does not have a license, is incompetent to drive, or reckless. Such as a company hiring a semi truck driver who has a poor driving history or failed a drug test.

When the Driver Is an Acquaintance of the Car Owner

This is perhaps the most common incident. Someone lets a friend borrow a car to go on a date or go get some milk. The friend runs a red light and gets in a wreck causing injury to the other driver. Despite the friend’s attempt to take responsibility for the situation, the owner of the car and insurance policy will be the “primary” policy covering the car accident. This is because most policies state that “…you, any relative, and anyone else using your car if the use is (or reasonably believed to be) with your permission” are covered under your policy. These are the conditions that the driver of a car must meet before the owner is held liable:

  • the driver must be legally allowed to drive in the state (have a license)
  • the driver must have permission to drive the owner’s vehicle
  • the driver does not use the vehicle on a regular basis (otherwise he or she would need to be listed on the policy)

When a policy holder gives permission to a licensed person to drive their car, the policy will cover the damages. Basically, you can follow the notion that auto insurance follows the vehicle, not the driver. Therefore, the policy holder will have to pay a deductible and their premiums might go up after the car accident but the easiest thing they can do is let your insurance company take over. They do not want to loose money so they will provide coverage for the policy holder and then seek to reclaim their payout if the driver or another party is actually liable for the damages.

For instance, if the driver who wrecked the car is guilty of negligence, then your insurance company can attempt to recover their payout from the negligent driver’s insurance policy.

A similar situation you want to be aware of is when policy holders give permission to a driver who is reckless, incompetent, or unfit to drive, they might be guilty of negligent entrustment and will be fully liable for damages involved in a wreck.

What is Negligent Entrustment?

This is when someone entrusts or gives permission to drive a car when they shouldn’t. In order for negligent entrustment to occur they must prove five criteria:

  • Entrustment of a vehicle by the owner
  • to an unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless driver
  • the owner knew, or should have known, the driver was unlicensed, incompetent or reckless
  • the driver was negligent on the occasion in question
  • that negligence was the foreseeable cause of an injury

Common cases include loaning cars to:

  • an intoxicated driver
  • an underage or unlicensed driver
  • a previously reckless driver
  • an elderly driver
  • an inexperienced driver

If guilty of negligent entrustment, they will be held liable for any damages caused by the driver. Even if the owner was not in the car.

When The Kids Are Driving

In some states, there is a “family purpose doctrine” for situations where multiple people use the same car. In a situation where a teenager might be driving his mom’s car and gets into a wreck, the owner of the car would be held liable for all damages. However, Texas does not have a family purpose doctrine and situations involving a car accident with a teenager are usually highly specific and you will have to contact a lawyer to ensure your case and the facts are interpreted properly.

When the Owner Is Not Liable For Someone Else Driving Their Car

If your car was stolen and wrecked, then you will not be liable for damages. This is essentially the only situation you can assume that you will have no liability for property damages or injuries caused to other parties.

The other instance is if the driver was negligent or took your car without permission. You won’t be held liable for careless and unknown acts caused by another driver.

These Cases Are Tough, You Need A Lawyer Who Knows The Ropes

It might seem like the owner of the vehicle will always be responsible for any damage to another party caused by the car. However, these cases are tough and require lots of research and understanding of insurance and liability law. You will need to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer who can explain the detail of your case. If you have any questions regarding a car accident resulting from lending someone their car, call us today for a free consultation.