Typically when a person is drawn into an auto accident lawsuit, he or she was one of the drivers involved in the incident. However, there are times when you can be held responsible for damages and losses associated with an accident when you're not the driver or even in the vehicle when it occurred. Here's two times when this can happen and what you can do to avoid it.
One of the most common reasons people find themselves on the hook for paying compensation to other drivers is because they lent their vehicles to the wrong people or at the wrong time. Many states have laws that hold the owner of a vehicle liable for any damages another driver causes while using the vehicle with permission. The family purpose doctrine, for instance, states an owner who purchases a vehicle for the family to use can be held liable for damages caused by anyone in the household who gets into an accident using that vehicle.
Even if the person doesn't live in your household, you can still be held liable for an accident if you let someone you knew was unfit to drive borrow your vehicle. If you know your friends had a few glasses of wine and you let him drive your car, for example, you will be held equally responsible for any damage he causes while on the road. In some states, you could be hit with DUI charges as well, even though you weren't present.
Being selective about who uses your vehicle is the best way to avoid this situation.
If you own a business where you have employees drive company vehicles, you could be held responsible for accidents they cause while on the job through a tort called vicarious liability. This law essentially states employers are liable for wrongful acts committed by their workers, as long as the person was acting within the scope of their employment when the incident occurred.
You would be responsible for paying damage if your employee ran a red light and T-boned another car while out making a delivery, for instance. However, you would not be liable if the employee got into an accident while on his or her lunch break since the person wasn't on the clock at the time, even if the worker was driving a company vehicle.
This particular issue can be hard to avoid. You want to make sure you're hiring responsible drivers and you have adequate vehicle insurance to cover accidents.
For more information about this issue or help with an accident case, contact a lawyer.