Who is Liable: the Car Owner or Driver?

Written By: Darl Champion

Date Posted: 05.28.24

Category: Car Accident

Car accident cases are complex, especially regarding liability. In many instances, the question of “Who is liable: the car owner or driver?” arises. Quite a few factors determine the answer. A skilled car accident lawyer in Woodstock will not only find that answer, but they’ll also work to get maximum compensation for your losses from the liable party.

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Why Liability is Essential to Your Case

Car Accident

If you don’t know who to sue after a car wreck, you can’t get the money you deserve for your injury and the expenses stemming from the accident. An attorney can determine liability by investigating how the accident occurred and who’s to blame.

Most car wrecks involve drivers in vehicles registered to their name. But there are times when the at-fault driver doesn’t own the car. Do you sue that driver or the owner? Can you sue both?

Owner Liability

Consider a scenario where a father loans his car to his daughter, who then wrecks the automobile and causes an injury. Or, someone lets a drunk friend drive their car. That friend then causes an accident. What if the driver works for the owner, and they’re using it for business when they wreck? Can you sue the owner in any of these scenarios?

The answer depends on the circumstances of each specific situation.

Let’s first consider the scenario of the father letting their child drive his car. Some states follow a legal principle known as the Family Purpose Doctrine. Under this doctrine, an injury victim can hold the father liable. The thought behind the Family Purpose Doctrine is that it’s the parent’s responsibility to keep their vehicle safe, just as it would be their duty to keep a gun locked away.

Negligent Entrustment

The second scenario can lead to owner liability as well. The principle of negligent entrustment holds the owner responsible if they irresponsibly loan a car to someone who’s impaired.

Vicarious Liability

Scenario number three happens quite often. An employer sends an employee on an errand and tells them to use the company car. The employee causes an accident. If the employee has liability insurance, the victim can pursue compensation from the employee’s and employer’s insurance companies.

The victim can take this action under the legal principle of vicarious liability. This principle makes employers responsible for their employee’s actions, as long as they occur while the employee performs a work-related function.

Suppose, for instance, the owner of a roofing company tells a worker to drive to the nearest hardware store to purchase tools or supplies. That worker then causes an accident, leading to an injury. The injury victim can hold the employer liable through vicarious liability.

Negligent Maintenance

What if the driver didn’t own the car and wasn’t to blame for the accident? What if you weren’t to blame, either? Who do you sue? The owner might be liable because they failed to maintain the vehicle properly. For example, they might have failed to tell the driver the brakes were worn out, and the driver hit your car because they couldn’t stop. The owner should be liable because they’re to blame for not replacing the brakes and letting the driver borrow the car, knowing it was dangerous.

Driver Liability

It’s much more straightforward when determining when a driver is liable. They’ll be responsible for your injury and damages if they drive negligently and cause an accident. Negligent driving can include speeding, recklessness, failure to yield, distracted driving, impaired driving, and more.

Let a Car Accident Lawyer Sort it All Out

In the big picture, it doesn’t really matter whether the owner or driver is liable. What matters is that you know who to act against to get all the money you deserve. The only way that will happen will be to hire a car accident attorney as soon as possible.

Here are some ways a lawyer can seek maximum compensation:

Legal Experience and Guidance

A seasoned car accident attorney has in-depth knowledge of personal injury law, including relevant statutes, case precedents, and legal procedures. They can provide invaluable guidance, explaining your rights, assessing the strength of your case, and outlining your legal options for pursuing compensation.

Comprehensive Case Evaluation

A lawyer will thoroughly investigate the accident and your injuries, gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and analyzing relevant documentation. By meticulously assessing the facts and circumstances surrounding the wreck, the attorney can identify all potential sources of liability and damages, increasing your chances of winning your case.

Calculating Damages

Determining the value of a car accident case involves more than simply adding up your medical expenses and repair costs. A knowledgeable attorney can assess all the economic and non-economic damages you’ve suffered, including not only medical bills but also your lost income, emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. By accurately quantifying these damages, your lawyer can demand appropriate compensation from the insurer covering the car owner, driver, or both.

Negotiation Skills

Insurance companies are notorious for employing tactics aimed at minimizing their financial liability, such as offering lowball settlements or disputing the extent of the victim’s injuries. A skilled attorney knows how to negotiate effectively with insurance adjusters and defense attorneys, pushing for a settlement that reflects the full extent of your damages.

Access to Resources and Experts

Car accident cases often require the expertise of various professionals, such as accident reconstruction specialists, medical experts, economists, and vocational rehabilitation experts. A reputable attorney has access to a network of trusted experts who can provide valuable insights and testimony to support your case, strengthening your position in negotiations or at trial.

Representing You in Court

Car AccidentWhile most car accident cases settle out of court, some may go to trial if an insurer refuses to make a fair settlement offer. Having a skilled litigator on your side will be critical if this happens. An experienced attorney will prepare the case for trial, present compelling arguments before a judge and jury, and fight tirelessly to ensure you get every dollar you have coming.

Please don’t hesitate to contact a car accident attorney. Whether the car owner or driver is liable, your attorney will do all they can to ensure your financial stability while you recover from your injury.

About the Author

Darl Champion is an award-winning personal injury lawyer serving the greater Metro Atlanta area. He is passionate about ensuring his clients are fully compensated when they are harmed by someone’s negligence. Learn more about Darl here.