To put it simply, yes. As strange as it may sound, you can be held liable for a car accident that involves your vehicle—even if you weren’t present at the time.

In most motor vehicle accidents, the negligent driver is the one held liable for any injuries or harm caused. However, in certain situations, the law can attribute fault to the owner of the car instead. Some common legal principles that apply in these cases are as follows:

Negligent entrustment means entrusting your vehicle to someone who was unfit to drive. This can include someone who:

  • Is under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Is unlicensed and/or underage
  • Is inexperienced behind the wheel
  • Is elderly and has decreased sight or reaction times (or other health conditions) that makes him or her unable to safely operate a vehicle
  • Has a history of reckless driving

The family car doctrine is very similar to negligent entrustment in that it involves letting someone drive your car who is not fit to do so. These cases typically involve a parent letting their son or daughter get behind the wheel. If the child causes a car accident, the owner (i.e. the parent) is legally responsible for the damage caused because they knowingly allowed the child to drive. Liability in family car doctrine cases 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.

Negligent maintenance is the failure to properly maintain your vehicle, presenting a safety risk for anyone driving the car. This term “negligent maintenance” is used because you have a duty to other drivers to keep your car in safe, working condition as to minimize the risk of an accident; failure to do so constitutes negligence. If your failure to maintain your vehicle leads to a mechanical breakdown, which leads to a car accident, you could be found liable for injuries or damage caused.

Employer liability comes into play when a commercial vehicle causes a motor vehicle accident. Just as employers are responsible for their employees’ negligent conduct (e.g. in premises liability cases), employers are responsible for their employees’ negligent driving. This is often referred to as “vicarious liability” or “imputed negligence.”

Signing a minor’s driver’s license application can open you up to liability in certain jurisdictions. In these cases, the court will assign liability to the person who signed the minor’s driver’s license application in the case of a car accident.

In order to prove third-party liability for a car accident, a plaintiff must prove that the car owner knew—or should have known—that the driver was unfit to drive at the time he or she gave consent.

In summary, most states allow the victim of a car accident to file a lawsuit against the driver, the owner, or both. If you have been involved in a car accident that could fall into one of the above categories,contact Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi for a free and confidential consultation.