It may seem counter-intuitive, but you can be held liable in a car accident even if you weren't behind the wheel – or even in the car for that matter. There are several ways this can come to pass. The following guide can help you determine if you may be to blame for someone else's car accident.
Who is the registered owner of the car?
If you are the registered owner of the car, you can sometimes be held liable if there is an accident while someone else is driving. An example of this is if you have neglected to maintain the car properly. For example, if the tires blow out, resulting in loss of control of the vehicle, you could be held at fault because, as the owner, it was your responsibility to ensure the car had safe tires.
Was the driver a minor?
Another way a registered owner that isn't driving can be held responsible is if a minor is driving at the time of the accident. In some states the parents or registered adult car owner is responsible for any accidents where the licensed minor child is at fault. This falls under the family purpose doctrine, which means that the owner of the "family car" is ultimately responsible for the actions of family members behind the wheel. You may also be held responsible in states that require a parent or guardian to sign a minor's driver's license application because, by signing the application, you are accepting responsibility.
Did you verify that the driver was trustworthy?
Negligent entrustment means that you allowed someone you knew wasn't fit to drive borrow your car. This could be lending your car knowingly to someone that is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or it could be lending the vehicle to someone that doesn't have a license or necessary driving experience. Illness, including mental issues like dementia or physical ailments like a high fever, can also result in negligent entrustment if it can be proven that you were aware of the condition previous to allowing the driver to get in your car.
If you find yourself with a claim against you and you weren't driving the vehicle, contact a car accident lawyer like Clearfield & Kofsky for guidance. Don't try to bargain with the insurance company on your own, and definitely avoid making any statements to the insurance company or the police until you have a chance to consult with your attorney.