In the event that you have been in a car accident with someone borrowing or renting a car, then there maybe a number of courses of action against multiple parties. The following describes the likely liability of each of the parties in various scenarios.
(1) General Rule: The general rule is that the driver of any vehicle owes a duty of care to all other parties on the road, including other drivers, pedestrians, biker riders, etc. This duty of care should be thought of as the driver’s responsibility to others on the road. The driver must not engage in unreasonable or intentional behavior which may bring about harm or property damage. In the most basic sense, every driver has a duty to not engage in dangerous driving behavior. When a driver, either intentionally or negligently, causes an injury to another person or damage to another’s property, that driver is legally liable for the injury or damage. Thus, if you have been in a car accident that is no fault of your own, then the other driver is likely liable for the ensuing damages or injuries.
(2) Borrowed Car: An extension of the general rule applies to situations where the driver has borrowed the car from the owner. In the event that you are in an accident with a car being driven by a “borrower” then the owner may also be legally liable for your damage or injuries. Under California Vehicle Code § 17150, “Every owner of a motor vehicle is liable and responsible for death or injury to person or property resulting from a negligent or wrongful act or omission in the operation of the motor vehicle, in the business of the owner or otherwise, by any person using or operating the same with the permission, express or implied, of the owner.” To find liability for the owner under this definition it requires two things; (1) ownership and (2) permission. In the event that you can establish these two elements, then you may be able to find the owner liable in addition to finding the driver liable. However, it should be understood that the owner’s liability does not relieve the actual driver from being liable. The driver is still liable.
(3) Stolen Car: Permission is the key element to impute liability to the car owner. When a car is stolen, the owner has not given the thief permission. Therefore, the general notion follows that the owner is not liable if that stolen vehicle gets into an accident causing property damage or personal injuries. Even when the owner leaves the keys in the ignition of an unattended vehicle, generally, this does not create liability for the owner of the car. An owner will be found to be liable for the eventual damage of a stolen vehicle in what are deemed “special circumstances.” Examples of special circumstances would be a bulldozer or a tow truck, which if left unattended, could result in significant damage or harm. Persons in these “special circumstances” must guard against a theft occurring due to this higher risk of harm.
(4) Rental Car: In rare circumstances, you may also have a claim against a rental car agency. Under California Law, rental car agencies must merely inspect the driver for a current and valid driver’s license, and the company must ensure that the person is “fit” to operate a motor vehicle at the time of the rental. In this context, fit means that the person is not impaired or unable to actually drive the car. An example would be an obviously intoxicated person. These cases are very difficult, because, in order to bring a legitimate action against a rental car company, you must prove that the rental company failed to inspect for a driver’s license or rented to a clearly unfit driver. The rental car company has no affirmative duty to investigate into the driving record of the customer or whether the driver is actually aware of the driving laws in a particular state. However, rental car companies often issue policies of insurance to the car renter’s which may be a possible source of recovery for any injuries sustained from a rental car driver.
Martinez & Schill LLP’s lawyers are experienced in handling car accident cases. If you or a loved one has been injured in a Riverside or San Diego car accident, contact us today for a free consultation. We do not get paid unless we obtain compensation on your behalf. San Diego 619-512-5995 or Riverside 951-200-4630.