Help! My car was in an accident, but I wasn't in my car. Here's what to do

It's a phone call no one wants to answer. If you lend your car to someone else and they are involved in an auto wreck, things can get awfully complicated. It seems like if you're not anywhere near the accident, you couldn't possibly be held liable and/or sued, but think again. There are some common circumstances where exactly that may happen. 

  • Vicarious liability: Otherwise called "imputed negligence" you could be held liable for an accident if your employee is in a crash while driving your company vehicle. This legal term is given for the relationship between the employee and employer. If the crash happens during business hours, and occurred during a work-related task, an employer will be held responsible for an employee's wrongful acts, such as negligent driving. Does this mean that if your employee is texting or answering your phone call when you know they are on the road? Yes, you could potentially be held liable for any resulting accident's losses and injuries. Don't be surprised if your employee gives this as a reason for causing a car accident, too.
  • Negligent Entrustment: If you let a friend or member of your family drive your car,  you might be held liable under the negligent entrustment law in some states. If someone can prove that you gave permission to drive to someone who was unfit to drive (i.e. drunk or high) then you might be considered responsible in contributing to the auto accident that results. Negligent entrustment also pertains to situations where a parent lends the vehicle to a minor whom they know to be an incompetent or reckless driver, or while they have their learner's permit. The parent would be responsible for that minor's actions.
  • The Family Purpose Doctrine: This can be used in some states that automatically makes a vehicle's owner liable for any damages resulting from negligent driving in that vehicle no matter which family member of the owner is driving, if the vehicle is for general family use. Here is a link pertaining to Washington State's Family Doctrine.

How To Tell if a Driver is Incompetent, Reckless, or Unfit

It may seem like common sense, but here are a few indicators for an unfit driver. If you lend your car to someone who exhibits any of these signs, you could be at risk for committing negligent entrustment, and subsequently sued for damages caused by the driver. 

  • A drunk or high driver
  • An underage and therefore unlicensed driver
  • An inexperienced driver such as a minor with only a learner’s license
  • An elderly driver with poor eyesight or reaction times
  • A driver with health conditions that affect their ability to drive, i.e. someone who experiences seizures or narcolepsy
  • A driver with a history of reckless driving

If you were injured in a car accident that wasn't your fault, you are facing an uphill battle to get your insurance claim paid fast, fair, and fully. Call an experienced attorney to help you today. Bill Coats Law is located conveniently in downtown Bellingham, and brings decades of experience and expertise our clients. Consultations and free, and you don't pay a dime until your claim is paid.

For more: what to do if the driver who hits you doesn't have insurance

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