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When is the vehicle owner liable instead of the driver?

After a car accident, we usually look to the driver of the vehicle that caused the crash for legal liability. He or she is most likely to play a significant part in what happened, for a variety of reasons: perhaps alcohol or drug use was involved, or maybe distracted driving caused the crash. He or she was likely the owner of the vehicle, there’s an insurance policy, and liability is clear.

However, there are some situations when who is responsible for damages may become less clear, such as when someone other than the owner of the car is driving. Is the owner still potentially liable for your injuries? Here are some situations that you may not have thought about—until they happened to you.

Negligent Entrustment Laws in Texas

There are certain circumstances in which the owner of a vehicle may not even be present when an accident happens, but he or she still shares in the responsibility for what happened. “Negligent entrustment” is a legal term that covers many of these situations, such as when the owner hands over the keys to someone who is:

  • Intoxicated by drugs or alcohol
  • A suspended or revoked driver’s license, or other legal prohibition from driving
  • An unlicensed minor

Negligent entrustment could also apply if the owner of the car is aware that the driver is someone who isn’t fit to drive, is known to be incompetent, or has an extensive history of accidentsSharing Liability After a Car Crash or reckless driving behavior.

Note that a car owner isn’t obliged to perform a background check on someone before loaning the keys to a vehicle, however. A valid driver’s license is generally presumed to be evidence enough that someone is qualified to drive, unless there are other factors at play at the time that the person received the keys.

A related legal concept in Texas is called the “family purpose doctrine.” Family purpose doctrine comes into play when a parent loans a vehicle to a minor child. If the child is then responsible for causing an accident, the parents can be held legally liable for damages to the victims. However, this doctrine does not usually apply if the vehicle was taken without permission.

Other Situations When Car Owners May Share Liability

Car owners are expected and legally obligated to maintain their vehicles to a safe standard of operation, or they may face negligent maintenance liability. If the car owner doesn’t keep the vehicle in safe working condition, he or she could be held responsible for an accident that happens as a result. For example, if the brakes on the car are faulty and the owner has neglected to replace them before loaning the car to someone, the owner could face legal consequences for the resulting accident.

Vicarious liability is a form of accident liability that often comes up when a business vehicle is involved. Should a business let an employee drive a company vehicle, the business (as the vehicle owner) may be held responsible for damages that result from an accident.

One situation in which it is rare for a vehicle owner to face liability is when the vehicle is stolen, since either express or implied consent is generally required to hold the owner responsible for what happens.

Get Legal Help After an Accident

There are many situations in which it may not be immediately clear who is responsible for damages after an accident. It is very important to be sure that when you make your legal claim you’re filing a lawsuit against all those responsible, and your attorney can help you make the right legal choices. This not only saves time and prevents frivolous lawsuits, but it may also help maximize your potential settlement or award so that you can get the compensation you’re owed for medical bills, vehicle repair or replacement, and other expenses related to the crash.

Wayne Wright LLP is here to stand up for the legal rights of those who have been injured in preventable car accidents, and we would like to help you and your family begin the recovery process today. To arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced auto accident attorney and talk about your accident, call us by phone, use our contact form to send an email, or click the live chat box on this page now.