Car Accident - Why Am I Responsible If I Wasn't Driving My Car?
Most people have loaned a vehicle to a family member or friend at some point within their driving experience. Maybe your sister’s car is in the shop or your neighbor needs to borrow your truck to pick up his new grill. You hand over the keys and a few minutes later you get a call that they were involved in a car accident and it was their fault. Once you learn everyone appears to be ok, you call your auto insurance company and report the claim.
In a few days, your car or truck is repaired and you don’t think about it again until a year or so later when you are served with a Complaint because the person your sister or friend hit in the car accident is suing you. You ask yourself, why am I being sued? I wasn’t driving! I did nothing wrong!
Who Is Responsible?
In actuality, you are the one responsible for any injuries caused by your vehicle as the owner of an inherently dangerous tool. With the car and the insurance attached to it under your name, you silently agree to bear the consequences of your associate’s actions when you pass over the keys.
Another way to think of it, say you own a dog and you ask your neighbor to walk it for you while you run errands. Unfortunately, for circumstances that you weren’t around to help influence, the dog bites a jogger. Even though you were not present, it is still your dog. You’ll be expected to deal with the fallout, from discipling your pet to attending to any injuries the jogger may have sustained.
In both scenarios your friend can be found liable as well, but the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine mandates that you take primary responsibility in the case of an accident.
Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine
Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine (DID) specifies that a person is strictly liable for the injuries that result from negligent operation of their vehicle by a person to whom he or she granted custody or operation. The idea is that a motor vehicle is a dangerous instrument and when you allow someone else to operate your vehicle, you are responsible for its use.
The principle is intended to protect the person that was injured because the owner of the vehicle would be in a position to obtain insurance for the motor vehicle. It ensures the victim gets assistance in getting the recovery that they are entitled to.
Depending on insurance policies, the driver’s insurance acts as secondary coverage according to DMV.org. Having a solid understanding of your insurance policy and obtaining appropriate coverage can make the process a lot easier. Before offering consent to someone to use your vehicle, make sure you understand what you can expect if they have an accident on the road.
There are exceptions to this rule though. Over the years, DID has been modified, mostly to provide more clarity around what counts as an “inherently dangerous tool” and what defines ownership. A few examples of these exceptions would be:
- The Beneficial Ownership Exception - in which car owners only possess bare legal title
- Your car is stolen
- Valet parking
- When your car is in the shop
- Tractor accidents
It’s best to only offer your car to experienced drivers that you trust. Auto accidents happen all the time for a wide variety of reasons that you have no control over if you aren’t present. Being aware of DID may encourage you to be more selective of who gets behind your wheel. If a friend or family member does cause an accident while driving your car, depending on the circumstances, having experienced attorneys, like at Lowman Law Firm can assist in navigating the details and exceptions of the doctrine is an essential asset.