Auto Accidents with Borrowed Vehicles

Your friend borrows your car one day, runs a red light, and hits another car broadside. The people in the other automobile are seriously injured. Who is responsible for the expenses incurred from the accident? As the owner of the automobile, you may be held responsible by what is known as “vicarious liability”. This term means that the owner of the vehicle may be held responsible for the act of another, especially if the driver was acting as the agent, servant and/or employee of the owner. Similarly, if the owner retained the “right, ability or duty to control” over the activities of a driver, the owner may be held responsible for the actions of the driver. While laws vary from state to state, owner liability is always something that the owner should keep in mind when allowing someone to borrow his car. Although insurance is usually available for a permissive driver of a vehicle since it usually “follows” the car, there can also be problems with insurance coverage if there is no permission to drive the vehicle. In addition to the owner’s insurance policy covering the vehicle and an accident, there is also the possibility of the driver’s separate insurance policy providing additional coverage for an accident. However, there are grey areas that can cause potential problems which include:

Ownership - One should not always presume that the person named on a police report is necessarily the owner. A check with the Department of Motor Vehicles should be done to confirm ownership. Infrequently, the owner may not even be the person on the registration card for the vehicle. Thus one should check with the insurance company covering the vehicle to determine true ownership. Sometimes, in a divorce situation, a spouse may be awarded the vehicle, yet the vehicle remains in the name of the other spouse. That can be determined in discovery phase of a lawsuit with properly worded interrogatories or by taking the deposition of the supposed owner. Another situation where ownership may not be as it appears is if a vehicle is sold and somehow the bill of sale was never completed or the registration changed.

Employer/employee - If an employee uses an employer’s vehicle while doing something related to his employment, or if the employer knowingly allows the employee who is reckless or incompetent to drive his vehicle, the employer can be liable for the accident, assuming the employee was acting within the scope of his employment.

Children/family members - In some states an owner may be liable for their family members if the owner allows the person to operate the vehicle knowing that the family member is unlicensed or reckless.

Consent - Consent may be something as simple as “go ahead and take my car” to simply failure to object to the vehicle being used. Someone may regularly borrow your car; however, permission must be given by you and not a member of your family or friend. If an owner allows a known negligent person to operate a vehicle, the owner may be responsible under a theory of negligent entrustment.

Vehicle maintenance - Although an accident may be caused by the negligence of the driver, if the owner knowingly loaned a vehicle that is deemed to be defective through either improper maintenance or a known defect, the owner can also be held responsible.

Most liability attaches to an owner when the owner knowingly allows someone they know to be negligent to operate the owner’s vehicle. Depending on the state one lives in the law may hold the owner responsible for another’s negligence if an “agency” relationship has been found to exist. Agency may include an agreement to pay a substantial part of the automobile trip, running an errand for the owner, acting as an agent, servant and/or employee of the owner, a common destination, an equal agreement in the routing of the trip or when the trip involves a common purpose.

Maryland is a contributory negligence state, meaning that if a plaintiff through his or her own negligence, contributed at least in part, to the harm suffered, they are barred from any recovery. That is why it is best to consult a legal expert experienced with Maryland accident law to answer any questions one may have if he becomes involved in a vehicle accident.

The legal information on this site is not intended to be legal advice. Contact one of our experienced personal injury attorneys or lawyers today to get specific information and answers for your specific situation.

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