Dec 18, 2009

You have likely heard about young reckless drivers leaving a trail of injury, death, and destruction and probably have then thought: "Boy, I hope that young man has good insurance." However, often the reality is that these ultra reckless young drivers have little to no insurance and no tangible assets. Therefore, victims of these young drivers need to arm themselves with attorneys who are educated in the latest aspects of current laws and prepared to use every possible means to find recovery.

Reckless young drivers are often the product of over-indulging parents. Even if the parents are not wealthy themselves, there are often additional insurance policies available if you bring these parents into a lawsuit. But how do you do that? This article will talk about the 3 claims you can bring against parties OTHER than the driver of the car.

1) Negligent Entrustment:
If the at-fault driver was using a vehicle that didn't belong to him at the time of the accident, a claim for negligent entrustment may be brought against the actual owner of the vehicle. This claim can only be successful if you can show that the owner of the vehicle either had knowledge of or reasonably should have known of the driver's tendency to be a dangerous driver.

a) Mechanics
Intensive investigation into the at-fault driver's history and driving record is the best way to determine whether this claim can and should be brought. After all, a negligent entrustment claim cannot be brought EVERY TIME a person loans a car. There must first be evidence that BEFORE the accident occurred, the owner should have had reasonable concern about letting this driver borrow his car.

A driving record that merely shows a pattern of speeding or red light violations is not always considered a sufficient basis for bringing a negligent entrustment claim. There is even some question as to whether a driving record showing prior accidents would be sufficient. After all, if your neighbor asked to borrow your truck would you really ask to see his DMV driving record first? Most likely, the answer is no. However, such information would very likely be obvious to the parent of a young son or daughter who has a history of reckless driving, and thus the claim would certainly be appropriate.

b) Advantages
Negligent entrustment claims have several advantages. For one, they bring more insurance policies to the table, which ultimately means more money for the victims.

Additionally, these claims make it possible for jurors to hear about the horrible driving record of the Defendant, which normally would be precluded. Court rules normally prevent the Defendant's poor driving record from being presented as evidence. Without being able to present this evidence, jurors often mistakenly believe that the young Defendant has a clean driving history, even though nothing could be further from the truth. Negligent entrustment claims help Plaintiffs overcome this obstacle by allowing them to show the jury the poor driving record of the Defendant. After all, the at-fault driver's poor driving history is the heart of the claim against the owner of the car.

2) Family Car Doctrine:
Growing up, you may have heard your dad say "my house-my rules." Turns out, there is a law that supports that notion. If I were going to give a new name to the Family Car Doctrine, I would say "Dad's car-Dad's fault."

a) Mechanics
Under the Family Car Doctrine, if you are the head of a household and a relative resident [ex: son or daughter] of your household borrows your car, then under the law you are just as responsible for the negligence of that driver as if you were driving and crashing the car yourself.

It is important to note that in a two parent household, either or both parents can be considered the head of the household, and therefore, both can be at fault to the same level of responsibility as the resident relative who was driving a family car.

b) Advantages
This is a particularly important claim to bring when very inexperienced drivers without lengthy driver histories get behind the wheel. Where the at-fault driver is a young driver who does not yet have a driving history, let alone a poor one, a claim for Negligent Entrustment may just not be viable.

But if dad lent his car to his son, irrespective of what dad knew or should have known, the Family Car Doctrine makes his vicariously liability equal to that of the driver, simply by proving the basic elements of tort. This is a useful and yet often overlooked claim.

3) Financial Responsibility Act:
What if Junior crashes a car not owned by his parents and he doesn't have a poor driving record yet because he is too young? Dead end? Think again.

Again, the idea here is to try and find as many insurance policies as possible which can be stacked to provide a very injured victim the money needed to help with recovery.

a) Mechanics
When Junior first got his provisional license at the DMV, a parent or guardian had to accompany him and sign a Financial Responsibility document pursuant to C.R.S. 42-2-108. This document means that an injured victim may hold the parent or guardian who signed for the minor driver liable for any accidents caused by that driver, no matter which vehicle he is driving, until the minor driver turns 18.

b) Advantages
This is yet another vicarious liability tool that may afford the added opportunity to bring another insurance policy into play. Remember though, this claim is limited to situations where the negligent driver is under 18 years of age at the time of the crash. After Junior's 18th birthday, this claim extinguishes.

It can be a challenge to find sufficient money for people who have been catastrophically injured in bad car crashes. Collateral claims, such as the ones explored above, need to considered and explored in cases where the injuries are extreme and on first blush it appears that the insurance coverage is inadequate.

At Anderson Hemmat, we understand that justice for victims is not easily obtained but we believe that it begins here.


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