Almost all vehicle accidents can be attributed to one or more drivers exhibiting negligence while operating the vehicle. What many people do not know is that the legal definition of “negligence” can expand far beyond taking one’s eyes off the road for a moment or failing to use a turn signal at the proper time.
In fact, a person can be sued for “negligence” even if that person was not driving the car or truck, or even anywhere near the vehicle when the crash occurred. Negligence has an extremely broad legal application that you need to be aware of as you own and operate vehicles.
The narrow legal definition of “negligence” related to vehicle accidents is when a driver does not “use reasonable care or caution while driving.” This definition is tested to determine which driver in an accident is at fault. If proper witnesses or testimony can definitively point to one or the other driver as having been negligent, the case is usually easy to rule on.
However, beyond this standard and straightforward application of “negligence,” several other situations can arise where a person could be charged with negligence even when s/he is far away from the vehicle involved in the accident.
Here are several instances where negligence comes into play in determining fault after car or truck accidents:
- If an employee is driving a company vehicle while performing job duties and is at fault in an accident, the employer will be charged with negligence. The law holds the employer responsible for the employee’s negligent driving. The precise legal term is “vicarious liability,” also called “imputed negligence.”
- If you allow someone to drive your car and that person is negligent and causes an accident, you can be held responsible in several states. In those states, once you allow someone else to drive your car, you are responsible for any collisions that it is involved in, whether or not you are behind the wheel.
- Similarly, if you allow your child to drive the family car and it is involved in an accident, you as the parent will be responsible for the negligence exhibited in the accident, if your child is at fault. The precise legal terms to watch out for in these cases are “negligent entrustment,” which occurs when a parent lends a car to a minor child that is known to be reckless, inexperienced or incompetent in some way. Another legal term that comes into play in some states is called the “family purpose doctrine,” which means that if a vehicle is purchased and maintained for general family use, the owner of the vehicle will be held liable for the negligent driving done by any family member.
- In some states, even signing a minor’s driver’s license application can mean that you are responsible for that minor’s negligent driving.
- “Negligent entrustment” can also be applied when you lend your car to someone that you knew was reckless, unfit or incompetent to drive. If the plaintiff can prove that you knew or should have known that the driver of your vehicle was a risk when you gave him/her permission to use the car, than you can be held liable. Determining whether that driver was incompetent is usually done along the guidelines of: intoxication (drunk or likely to become so), unlicensed, underage, inexperienced (minor with a learner’s permit and no supervision, for instance), elderly (proven slower reaction times), ill (with an illness that directly affects driving) or previously reckless (with the record to prove it). The lesson? Don’t give your keys to anyone that presents any sort of risk. The legal ramifications will fall back on you.
On both sides of this legal question of negligence, a skilled and competent car accident lawyer is needed. Whether you are charged with negligence and believe that you are innocent, or you think that you need to charge someone else with negligence, particularly in its broadest application, a good vehicle accident attorney can help you to navigate the tricky legal wording that enters into such cases.
The primary truth to remember from a consideration of negligence in vehicle accident cases is to remember that this word does not only refer to the driver of a given vehicle. It can be applied to employers, parents and all owners of vehicles to different degrees in different states. Let your car accident lawyer sort through your state’s laws to determine if you have a case or a sound defense against one.