The Messina Law Firm
Liability for The Careless Driving of Others
Liability in a car wreck: Are owners of cars liable when they loan their cars to someone who then drives negligently? Are wives liable for the careless driving of their husbands? Mothers for their sons? What if the negligent driver is drunk or does not have a valid license?
Liability In A Car Wreck: Duty of Care
Usually, the answer is “no.” Like most, you probably feel morally obliged to look out for the safety and welfare of others. However, the law has generally proven itself reluctant to require people to do so. Except in some circumstances, the law seldom takes affirmative steps requiring you to protect others, even where you are able to do so. So in order for you to be held legally liable for another person’s injuries, the law generally looks for some reason to impose a specific duty to be careful And not some reason other than just because care is required. Without a legal duty of care, no legal liability for negligence exists.
Sharing a life together doesn’t mean sharing your partner’s negligence liability.
In connection with the ownership of a car, this means that, while husbands, wives, sons, and daughters may share their lives and their households. They usually do not also share liability for each other’s negligent driving. Liabilty in a car wreck stays with the negligent party.
If a parent or a spouse has given another family member permission to use a car. Accordingly, if the parent or spouse is the owner of the car, and even if the car is on the same insurance policy. Or other family cars in the parent’s or spouse’s name. The parent or spouse has no automatic liability for the unexpected negligence of the driver. Likewise, loaning a car to a friend does not make you liable for the friend’s unexpected negligent driving.
Liability In A Car Wreck: Negligent Entrustment
However, the keyword is generally: It is possible for a car’s owner or a family member to be held legally liable if he negligently loans a car to someone knowing they may drive carelessly.
This liability falls under the category of “negligent entrustment,”. Which is the act of entrusting an automobile that you own, or that you control, to someone else you have reason to know should not be driving it.
Giving the keys to someone you know is drunk.
For example, if you give your car keys to someone else and you know that that person is not licensed to drive. Or that he is too drunk to drive safely, or even if you know that he speeds everywhere he goes. You can be found to be liable if that person then causes a collision. The reason that the law imposes such liability is that it is very easy to avoid the damage that an incompetent or reckless driver might cause. Also, a reasonable person would not lend his or her car to a minor or a drunk.
Negligent entrustment is limited.
In Texas, the scope of liability for negligent entrustment is limited. In order to be liable, it must be proven that you knew of the danger that the person to whom you loaned the car posed. If you knew he was drunk, you might be liable. Additionally, this knowledge is measured as of the time you entrust the car to the other driver. The fact that the driver then takes the car and causes an accident does not show that you should have known the driver was incompetent, because the collision did not occur until after you loaned him the car.
Finally, it must be the negligence of the person to whom you loaned the car that causes the injuries. For example, if the person you gave the keys, in turn, gives the keys to someone else, you are probably not going to be found liable unless you knew that he was likely to allow others to drive your car.
Passenger Liability in a car wreck
Similar rules apply in cases involving claims brought by passengers, whose liability for the driver’s bad driving is limited. Merely being present in a car with a negligent driver is not enough to make a passenger liable to others. Unless the passenger contributes to the collision by his own acts. Such as by grabbing the steering wheel and causing the driver to drive in an unsafe manner.
Liability In A Car Wreck: Passengers are to be aware of the dangers.
Although you are generally not liable to people the driver hits. You probably do have some responsibility for ensuring your own safety. E.G. if you get into a car with a person you know or should know, is too drunk to drive. Then if you are then injured in a collision, the jury might find that you are responsible. At least for some or all of the injuries suffered. Because riding with an impaired driver may itself be a negligent act. As is the case with negligent entrustment. The central question will be whether you were actually aware of the danger.
The moral of the story is “be careful”. Although you are not liable for injuries caused by your car just because you own it. You should, however, take reasonable steps to prevent someone who should not be driving from using your car. And do so, to protect yourself if you are the passenger in someone else’s car. Otherwise, you could find yourself being held liable for someone else’s bad driving.