A Newport Beach Car Accident Lawyer Explains When You Are Liable for Another Person’s Driving

Usually, if a motor vehicle driver’s negligence caused an accident then the driver is partially or fully responsible for the accident; however, under certain circumstances, non-drivers can be held responsible for accidents.  A seasoned Newport Beach car accident lawyer  knows under which circumstances a non-driver can be held responsible for a motor vehicle accident, even if the non-driver was not present during the accident.

Drivers Who Are Minors

In many states, parents are responsible for their minor children’s negligent or willful conduct, including driving.  For example, California has several statutes holding parents or legal guardians liable for a minor’s negligent operation of a vehicle resulting in an accident. For example:

  • Vehicle Code Section 17707: the parent or legal guardian who signed the minor’s driver’s license application is jointly and severally liable with the minor for damages arising from the minor’s negligent or wrongful acts or omissions while driving a motor vehicle.
  • Vehicle Code Section 17708: a parent or legal guardian is potentially liable for all foreseeable damages whenever the parent gives expressed or implied permission for the minor to operate the parent’s vehicle, and the minor causes a car accident.

An experienced Newport Beach car accident attorney notes that although California Vehicle Code Section 1714.1 limits a parent’s or legal guardian’s liability for the minor’s willful misconduct to $25,000 for actual damages, the driving-related statutes make the parent or legal guardian liable for “any damages proximately resulting” from the accident, even if the damages exceed $25,000.

Someone Else Driving

Some states make vehicle owners liable for any damages arising from an accident that resulted from the negligent operation of the owner’s vehicle, even if the owner was not the driver.  For example, California Vehicle Code section 17150 states that vehicle owners are held vicariously liable for a driver’s negligent, wrongful act or omission in the operation of the motor vehicle as long as the driver had express or implied permission from the owner to drive the vehicle.  Thus, if you give your friend permission to drive your car and your friend gets into an accident due to his negligence, you can be held liable for the resulting damages.

Employee Drivers

Many, if not all, states have upheld the common law doctrine of respondeat superior, meaning “Let the master answer.”  It is a legal principle holding the master responsible for the actions of his servants.  In modern times, respondeat superior makes employers vicariously liable for their employee’s negligent actions, including negligent driving, performed within the course and scope of the employee’s employment.

The key element is whether the employee was acting within the course and scope of his or her employment when he or she committed the negligent act.  Several factors are considered:

  • What was the employee’s intent?
  • What were the nature, time and place of the employee’s conduct?
  • What type of work was the employee hired to do?
  • What incidental acts should the employer reasonably expect the employee to do?
  • How much freedom is the employee allowed to perform his or her duties?
  • How much time is consumed in the employee’s personal activity?

For example, if you were delivering products for your employer and you caused an accident due to speeding, your employer could be held responsible for the resulting damages because the above-mentioned factors weigh in favor of you acting within the course of your employment.  However, if your accident occurred ten miles off your regular route where you had driven to visit a friend, then the above-mentioned factors arguably lean towards finding that you departed from the course and scope of your employment and thus, your employer may not be held responsible for the accident.

Negligent Entrustment

A vehicle owner could also be held liable for negligence if the driver who caused an accident was unlicensed, incompetent, unfit or reckless and the owner knew or should have known of the driver’s condition.  Examples include if the driver was:

  • Intoxicated
  • Unlicensed or underage
  • Inexperienced
  • Elderly with terrible eyesight, hearing or reaction time
  • Sick in way that affects his or her driving (e.g., drowsy)
  • Previously reckless while driving

Contact a Newport Beach Car Accident Lawyer

For more information, consult an Orange County car accident attorney with Russell & Lazarus APC at (949) 851-0222.