Liability for car accidents can be tricky in nearly any situation, but when the at-fault driver doesn’t own the vehicle that caused the accident, the question of liability can be that much more complicated. So, before you let someone borrow your car, be sure to understand how you might be held responsible for any injuries or damages they may cause. Our Joplin car accident lawyer can explain everything you need to know about potential liability.
Proving a theory of liability
The simple fact that one car hits another does not automatically determine who is liable. In some situations, one driver may try to shift some, if not all, of the blame on everyone else. For example, there are defenses known as contributory negligence of assumption of risk, which may create a real issue of liability in your case. If those defenses are raised, the resolution of your case may be further delayed. It is important to have as much evidence as you can to support your theory of liability, including witness testimony, if possible.
Understanding the principles of vicarious liability
If you are a Joplin resident and you loan your car to someone, you could be held responsible for any damages or injuries they cause when using your vehicle. The theory that applies under Missouri law is referred to as “vicarious liability,” which essentially says that if you have given someone else permission to drive your car and they are at fault for a car accident, then you can be held liable for compensating the victim for any resulting damages or injuries.
What about your car insurance?
For many drivers, their auto insurance will cover someone that borrows their insured vehicle. However, there are situations where the insurance carrier may deny coverage for other reasons which means the financial responsibility will fall on you. Under some policies, negligent entrustment can be grounds for denying coverage. Be sure that you know what type of coverage your auto insurance policy provides before you allow just anyone to borrow your car.
What does the term “negligent entrustment” mean?
The legal term “negligent entrustment” refers to the situation where you can be held negligent for entrusting a dangerous instrument such as a vehicle to someone else when you have notice that they may be incompetent. For example, if you loan your vehicle to someone who you know has a less than stellar driving record, or to someone who is a young driver without sufficient experience, you could be held liable if that person has an accident while driving your vehicle. As our Joplin car accident lawyer can explain, simply allowing someone to borrow your car does not automatically make you responsible.
Be careful if you pay someone to drive your vehicle
Another consideration, particularly for business owners, is paying someone to drive a vehicle that you own. One of the most common examples is when you hire an employee to make deliveries for your business and they cause a car accident while working for you. In that situation, you would be held liable through vicarious liability, regardless of whether you knew that person was incompetent.
However, if your employee uses the vehicle outside of the scope of their job duties and they cause an accident, then vicarious liability will most likely not apply. Instead, they would be held personally responsible for any injuries and damages they cause. This is yet another example why the facts are important, as is the advice of our Joplin car accident lawyer.
Determining fault in a negligence lawsuit
The fault determination in personal injury or car accident cases is not typically black and white. In fact, in some cases, both drivers can share the fault in a car accident. Depending on the applicable laws, even victims can contribute to their own injuries. Historically, the “contributory negligence” theory applied when the victim may have helped to cause the accident or contributed to his own injuries. Under the theory of contributory negligence, if it can be established that the victim contributed to the accident in any way, the victim may no longer be entitled to compensation for their injuries.
If you have questions regarding negligent entrustment issues, car accidents or any other personal injury matters in Arkansas or Missouri, please contact the Cottrell Law Office for a free consultation. You can contact us either online or by calling us toll-free at (888) 433-4861.
He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.
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