Vicarious Liability and Negligent Entrustment
It might be surprising to discover that you could be responsible for damage done to your car even when you’re not driving it. Whether you loan your car to a friend, family member, or an employee, or there's something wrong with the way your car was manufactured, you should be aware of the possibility that you may be responsible for any accidents that occur. This article reviews several types of situations in which you may have to pay damages for someone else’s behavior.
When you loan your car to a bad driver:
If you loan your car to someone who you know is an unsafe driver, you may be liable for any accident that person may cause. In many states, both the owner and the driver of a vehicle can be named in a lawsuit under a theory of "vicarious liability." Even in the absence of "owner's liability" statutes, the common law theory of "negligent entrustment" can make you liable for any injuries caused by a bad driver you trusted with your car.
Under the Family Car Doctrine, for example, parents will be held liable for damage caused by a minor driving the vehicle, even if the minor household member isn't listed on the automobile insurance policy. For this reason, parents should be cautious when allowing teens to drive and make sure they are mature enough to handle such a responsibility.
When you hire someone to drive for your business in your business’ vehicle:
Likewise, under general negligence theories of vicarious liability and "respondeat superior" ("let the master answer"), employers may be liable, along with their employees, for accidents caused by their employees while operating company vehicles. This type of vicarious liability is generally limited to automobile accidents that occur during the course of employment, and doesn't apply if the employee was using the vehicle for errands outside of work or for personal reasons.
For example, if an employee gets into an accident while he is driving to a client's office to drop off some paperwork, the employer may be liable since the accident occurred during the scope of employment. In that situation, the employee was using the car for business. However, if the employee instead decides to go on a 2 hour unauthorized trip to the mall and gets into an accident during that time, the employer will likely not be held liable because the employee was using the car for purely personal reasons. Here, the employee was not acting within the scope of employment.
When you manufacture a bad car or construct a bad road:
In a roundabout way, the law permits two other circumstances for vicarious or remote liability. One involves an accident caused by a defective vehicle. In such cases, a "product liability” lawsuit against the manufacturer may be appropriate. In addition, several state laws permit suits against state highway officers and departments in connection with the negligent construction or repair of highways, streets, bridges, and overpasses that may have proximately caused an accident.