Auto Accident Injury due to Vicarious Liability


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In most states, an individual may be liable for an accident caused by others who are driving their vehicle, with their direct or implied permission.  Both the owner and the driver of a vehicle may be named in a lawsuit under the theory of “vicarious liability”.  The legal definition of vicarious liability is when one person is liable for the negligent actions of another person, even if the first person was not directly responsible for the injury.

Owner Liability

The owner of a motor vehicle can be held liable for injuries caused by the driver of their car, even though they are neither driving nor at the accident scene.  This is due to the basis of their ownership and their grant of permission for the at-fault driver to user their vehicle.  In most jurisdictions will treat the car owner as sharing liability for any accident caused by the borrower.  The owner’s liability may be predicated on statute, or on common law principles such as negligent entrustment.

Owner liability doe not ordinarily extend to non-permissive uses of a car, although an owner’s negligence may cause liability to follow, even when a car is stolen.  Some states will hold an owner liable if they leave the keys in the ignition of the car, and their car is stolen and involved in an accident.

The law permits two other circumstances for vicarious or remote liability, which are:

1. An accident caused by a defective vehicle in which a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer may result in payment of damages.

2. Several state laws permit suits against highway officers and departments in connection with negligent construction or repair or highways, streets, bridges, and overpasses that may have proximately caused the accident.

Insurance Impact

Some car insurance companies give their customers a one-time “get out of jail free” pass.  When you make a claim on your first at-fault accident, you might not see any increase in your premiums at renewal time.  This is sometimes known as “accident forgiveness” and is not industry wide.  Companies that forgive first-time accidents often require that you fit a certain profile in order to escape a rate increase.

If people are injured in an accident that is found to be your fault, bodily injury liability coverage can help protect you from bills that include medical expenses, legal defense fees, emergency aid at the scene, lost wages and other expenses.  If another driver’s property is damaged, property damage liability coverage can help pay those expenses.  It also helps to keep your assets safe in the event of a lawsuit resulting from a covered accident.

Who to File a Claim Against

In some states, an employer is subject to vicarious liability for car accidents caused by an employee’s negligent driving.  Employers can be held vicariously liable for injuries or deaths caused by an employee’s negligence provided the employee was working or somehow serving the interests of his employer.  The key to establishing the employer’s vicarious liability is proof that the employee was in the performance of his employer’s business at the time of the accident.

Whether you are the victim of an accident involving vicarious liability, or the owner of a vehicle that was involved in an accident, you should consult with an experienced personal injury attorney.  They can evaluate your specific case and make legal recommendations to assist you.

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