Vicarious Liability in Motor Vehicle Accidents

Auto Accident

By Sandra Dalton, Staff Writer

If the driver who caused your injuries did not own the vehicle he or she was driving, you may be able to recover compensation from the owner of the vehicle under the legal doctrine of vicarious liability. Each state is different. Some states offer wide protection for injury victims, while others are far more favorable toward vehicle owners and their insurance companies. You also need to know the laws in your state if you own a vehicle that you allow other people to drive. A local auto accident attorney can help.

Parents, Children, and Other Family Members

Parents can be held liable for accidents caused by their children in a couple of ways. Negligent entrustment applies when a parent lets his child drive the family car, knowing that the teenager is a dangerous driver.

In states where the family car doctrine applies, negligent entrustment is not necessary. Even if the teen is an excellent driver, the parent who owns the vehicle can be held vicariously liable. And the family car doctrine doesn’t just apply to minors. It applies to any family member who drives the car with permission for a purpose that serves the family. That includes spouses.

Loaned Vehicles

Negligent entrustment is also an issue when you loan your car to a bad driver. If you let someone use your vehicle and you know she is incompetent or intoxicated, you can be held responsible for any injuries she causes.


Employers can be held liable for accidents caused by their employees under the theory of respondeat superior when the employee was driving in the scope of employment. It usually does not apply when an employee is driving for personal reasons, even if the employee is driving a company vehicle. However, this is a situation where an experienced personal injury lawyer may be able to prove through a thorough investigation that the employee was using the car for purposes of employment.

Rental cars

In rare cases, rental or leasing companies can be held vicariously liable. A federal law, passed in 2005, makes it very difficult to hold rental companies responsible unless you can prove negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the company that owns that vehicle.

Learn more about vicarious liability and how it applies to your case by talking to an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney.

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