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Allowing Others to Drive You Vehicle

One of the seminars frequently requested of us is ?Fleet Safety?. Many of the laws are applicable to private owners as well, however, so I would like to touch on a few of them. These are only our interpretations of these laws, and should not be considered as legal advice.

Respondeat Superior

This term means, literally, ?the leader shall answer? to issues of responsibility. If a fleet driver has an accident while driving a company-owned vehicle, the company owner can be held responsible, to a lesser or greater degree, depending on the circumstances of the collision.

Similarly, the courts are now adjudicating more of the responsibility to the owners of single vehicles. If you let someone borrow your vehicle, and a collision ensues, you can be held partially (or wholly) responsible, depending on the circumstances, once again. To determine the amount of responsibility, several other legal terms are applied.

Negligent Hiring / Retention

If an employer (which could be you, if you have a ?nanny?, house-servant, or other ?employee? that you pay wages to) does not take considerable care to know the driving record, attitude, and physical and mental health of an employee (as it relates to driving), the employer can be held responsible for hiring that employee and permitting vehicle use, or for NOT firing an employee who, for public safety, should have been terminated.

As a responsible vehicle owner, you should ALWAYS have knowledge of recent traffic tickets, collisions, or other detrimental driving attributes of anyone you permit to use your vehicle.

Negligent Entrustment

Again, while generally used in business, this legal concept can be applied to single owners. As the name implies, if you ?negligently? allow (entrust) your vehicle to be used by an irresponsible person, or in an irresponsible manner, you may be held liable for any damages.

Quite simply, the law states that you, as the owner, have a primary responsibility to ensure the safety of others from any damages caused by YOUR vehicle, irrespective of whoever may be at the controls. For example, if you let someone drive your vehicle, and you did not check first to see if they had a valid license, and it turns out that their license had been suspended, in the eyes of the law, YOU endangered the lives and safety of others.

This, by the way, includes a driver, let?s say a Nanny, who has a bad cold and is taking over-the-counter medications. If the bottle or package of the medication warns of drowsiness, or to not operate machinery while using it, and the nanny does drive your vehicle, you can be held responsible for allowing an employee to ?drive under the influence? of alcohol or drugs.

Remember that a DUI (driving-under-the-influence) does NOT just mean drunk drivers. It applies to ANYONE who is not in a clear and alert mental state, due to ANY drug or alcohol, even if legally prescribed.

Negligence Associated with Vehicle Condition

Another misunderstood concept is this one. If a collision occurs, and it is determined that the ?first primary dangerous event? that caused the collision was the failure of a part or system (such as the brakes), you can be held liable for the damages from that collision. If you try to defend yourself by stating that you didn?t know the brakes were bad, you just admitted to a lack of proper care and concern for the mechanical reliability of your vehicle. Even if someone else was driving your vehicle, YOU can be the person responsible because YOU did not show due diligence in the safety of your vehicle.

As a private owner, in cases such as permitting an unlicensed person to drive your vehicle, or in many DUI cases, your car can be impounded for 30 days or more, leaving YOU to pay the impound storage fees, release affidavit fees and damages. A cry of ?I didn?t know that!? is not a defensible statement, and the responsibility of your vehicle, ultimately, rests with you, the rightful owner.