Who Is Liable in a Car Accident, the Owner or the Driver?
If you are seriously injured in a car accident, you may be able to bring a claim against the individual(s) responsible with the assistance of a car accident lawyer. Generally there is only one liable party: the driver who caused the accident. However, liability for the accident may extend to one or more additional parties in certain circumstances.
For this reason, it is crucial to find out not only who was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident but also who owns the car. When you exchange information after the accident, check to see if the name on the driver’s license matches what you see on the vehicle registration and insurance card. If the names don’t match, ask the driver if he or she owns the car.
Liability can be a complicated issue when the at-fault driver does not own the vehicle. It is important to explore all of your options for pursuing compensation after the crash. Contact a car accident lawyer at Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi for FREE today.
When Is the Driver Liable for a Car Accident?
Both New Jersey and New York have no-fault auto insurance laws. The right to sue another driver is confined to accidents resulting in serious and catastrophic injury.
You must prove that the negligence of another driver caused the accident that resulted in your injuries. Negligence can consist of any number of careless behaviors behind the wheel, including:
- Distracted driving
- Driving too fast for conditions
- Aggressive driving
- Unsafe lane changes
- Drunk driving
If you suspect any of these reckless actions led to the accident, you may be able to bring a claim against the other driver.
When Is the Owner of the Car Liable for an Accident?
Most car accidents are solely the fault of the careless driver. As a result, liability for the damages sustained by victims generally rests with the person behind the wheel.
However, liability can also extend to the vehicle owner in some instances. If the following issues were a factor in the accident, you may also be able to bring a claim against the owner of the car:
The Family Car Doctrine
Teenagers have a high likelihood of being involved in car accidents. Parents need to be aware of their child’s driving ability before entrusting them with the keys to the family car. If they fail in this duty and the teen causes an accident in which someone is seriously hurt, the parents are liable for the damages.
This legal principle is known as the “family car doctrine.” It holds parents accountable for knowingly allowing kids who are unsafe drivers to get behind the wheel. Liability for an accident will depend on who paid for the vehicle, who controlled use of the vehicle, whose name is on the title, and the intent of the parents and minor regarding ownership.
A negligent entrustment claim is brought on similar grounds to those based on the family car doctrine. Both types of cases revolve around the negligence of the car’s owner in allowing an unsuitable third party to operate the vehicle.
The owner may be liable in a car accident claim if they entrust the vehicle to someone who:
- Is under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Is unlicensed and/or underage
- Is inexperienced behind the wheel
- Is elderly and has impaired vision, declined reaction times, and/or health conditions that make him or her unable to operate a vehicle safely
- Has a history of reckless driving
Vehicle owners have a duty to exercise caution when letting somebody use their car. Failure to do so can leave the owner liable for damages if the individual they allowed to drive the car causes an accident.
Another duty held by vehicle owners is to ensure that the car is in safe working order. If the owner is negligent in performing maintenance on the car and a mechanical failure causes the accident, the owner may be liable regardless of who was driving when the crash occurred.
The theory of negligent maintenance may apply if the owner fails to perform necessary upkeep (i.e., checking the tires, refilling fluids, repairing mechanical issues, etc.) and if he or she does not take action after receiving notification of a vehicle defect.
Vicarious liability is the legal theory that holds a superior (such as a business) responsible for the negligent or wrongful acts of subordinates (such as employees). Employers may be liable for accidents caused by employees operating company cars.
Employer liability is a common factor in truck accident claims. However, employers can be held liable for accidents involving any kind of commercial vehicle, including cars used to deliver goods and transport people.
How Do I Prove the Owner Is Liable for a Car Accident?
First, you must prove that your injuries meet the threshold for seriousness. Evaluation of your medical records and testimony from experts can help you establish that you have the right to sue.
Next, you must be able to show that the car accident was caused by the other driver. Photos of the accident, eyewitness testimony, and other evidence can help you demonstrate that the driver’s negligence led to the accident.
Finally, if you determine that the driver is not the owner of the vehicle, you must prove that the car’s owner knew or should have reasonably known that the driver was unfit to operate the vehicle. This can be challenging, as it often rests on conversations in which you were not involved.
The best way to identify all of the liable parties in your car accident claim is to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney can investigate to determine how the accident occurred and who is at fault, as well as your options for pursuing compensation.
Start Building Your Car Accident Claim Today
The victims of car accidents often face a number of obstacles to recover damages. Insurance companies will do whatever they can to pay as little as possible, from disputing liability to blaming someone else.
Both the driver and owner of the vehicle may be liable for a car accident. Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi will gather all relevant evidence and develop a strategy for achieving the best outcome in your case.
Our attorneys have more than 80 years of combined experience representing clients who have been injured through the negligence of others. We have achieved millions of dollars on behalf of victims in a variety of motor vehicle accident claims.
Please call Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi at (201) 585-9111 today for a FREE consultation. Our car accident lawyers serve clients throughout New Jersey and New York.