Can A Car Owner Be Responsible For A Car Accident Involving Their Car?

Can A Vehicle Owner Responsible If Someone Gets Into An Accident In Their Car?


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Can A Vehicle Owner Responsible If Someone Gets Into An Accident In Their Car?

The owner of a vehicle can be responsible in some cases if they permitted someone to driver their car and that person gets into a car accident. This concept is called negligent entrustment. In essence under this concept, if an owner permits a person they know is unfit to operate a vehicle and that person causes a crash, the owner is responsible. Negligent entrustment can also apply when an owner knew or had a reason to know that unfit driver was using their vehicle and failed to stop it.

Who Can Be Responsible For Negligent Entrustment?

One of the leading cases on negligent entrustment in Nevada is the case of Zugel by Zugel v. Miller, 100 Nev. 525, 688 P.2d 310 (1984). In that case, a 13-year old purchased a motorcycle with the permission of his parents. The parents claimed they told their son not to drive the motorcycle on the public streets. But the son did, with a friend of his as a passenger. The son ran a stop sign and caused an accident. The passenger made a claim against the teenage driver and his parents. The parents disclaimed responsibility for negligent entrustment.

 

The Nevada Supreme Court disagreed with the parents. What swayed the Court was the son’s testimony that his parents knew he routinely rode his motorcycle on public streets. As stated by the Court, “[f]rom this fact alone the jury could have inferred that respondents possessed knowledge of their son’s activities of driving the motorcycle on public roadways.”

Under this theory of liability, the entrusting person need not have known that the motor vehicle was going to be driven on a public roadway. In fact, a parent who entrusts his child with a motor vehicle may be found liable under a theory of negligent entrustment even when the parent expressly instructs the child not to use the vehicle on a public roadway.

Nevada Supreme Court

The doctrine of negligent entrustment does not apply unless the person that gave permission is the owner of the vehicle. For example, in Mills v. Continental Parking Corp., 86 Nev. 724, 475 P.2d 673 (Nev. 1970), a parking attendant gave keys to a car’s owner who was allegedly obviously drunk. The drunk car owner then hit and killed a pedestrian. The Court held that the parking attendant cannot be held responsible for returning the keys to the owner, even though the owner was drunk. The Court reasoned, essentially, that the parking attendant had an obligation to return to the keys; otherwise, the attendant can be liable for conversion.

 

In Las Vegas, tourists too get into car accidents in rental vehicles. The question arises in those situations as to whether the rental car company can be responsible for a renter is an unfit driver. Under N.R.S. 483.610, a rental car company is required to check driver’s licenses, unless the renter comes from a country or state that does not require driver’s licenses. This statute further requires the rental company to visually inspect the license and compare the driver’s signature with that on the license. Attorneys for insurance companies and the rental companies have argued that this statute does not require rental car companies to verify that a driver has a valid driver’s license or is fit to drive a car.

What does it mean to be unfit or incompetent driver?

Not everyone who negligently causes a car accident is an unfit or incompetent driver. To answer the question of what is an unfit or incompetent driver, we have to look at the laws that says who can’t or shouldn’t drive. The easiest and least disputable is a drunk driver. The law says that a driver who is impaired by alcohol or drugs shouldn’t be driving and penalizes drunk drivers. A car owner who lets a driver they know to be drunk or otherwise impaired to driver their car is responsible for negligent entrustment.

An owner who permits an unlicensed person to drive their vehicle may also be responsible for negligent entrustment. In Zugel v. Zugel, the Court found the parents liable even though their son had driven the motorcycle a number of times. Why? Because the law said that the son, who had no driver’s license, was not legally competent to drive.

There may be other situations where a vehicle owner is responsible for a car accident caused by a driver they lent the car to. To find out if negligent entrustment applies in your case, it is best to speak to a car accident attorney who has experience pursuing claims for negligent entrustment.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident and want to know who is responsible for paying for your injuries, speak to an experienced Las Vegas Car Accident Attorneys at D.R. Patti & Associates. Our skilled Las Vegas accident attorneys will answer your questions and conduct any needed research and investigation to ensure full compensation for our clients.

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