Knowing who to sue in a car accident
Hi, I’m Jared Richards, I’m one of the attorneys here at Clear Counsel Law Group. One of our readers has asked, “If I’ve been in a car accident, who do I sue? The driver or the owner of the vehicle who’s on the insurance policy?”
The answer is: Well, it depends. Instead of talking about suing, I want to talk about who is responsible for a wrongful act, which we call a “tort.” Now, the driver is almost always responsible, so assuming that car is at fault, then the driver who is driving it is almost certainly also at fault. There may be a few exceptions, that we won’t go into here. The answer is one, you would have a claim against the driver. Now the question is, do you have a claim against the owner or the insured?
Now, those are actually two different distinctions. The owner of the vehicle may own an insurance policy. Most of the time, does. The insured may be the owner, but most of the time, almost every time, the insurance policy will cover the driver, and so it doesn’t really matter … in a normal situation, it usually doesn’t matter if you have a claim against the owner. The insurance company is going to cover the driver.
There are certain circumstances where you do have a claim against the owner, and the question here is, is the owner responsible at all for the accident? There are usually two main theories of liability that indicate that the owner is, in fact, liable. The first one is that of, we’re going to throw a nice attorney Latin phrase in for you, a term called “respondeat superior.”
“Respondeat superior” simply means that the superior is going to be responsible. For example, the employer. If an owner of a business sends his employee to go pick up supplies, and the employee, while doing what the business owner has told him to do, gets into an accident, then the business is responsible for the actions of its employee. The question here, the thing that we have to look for, is, was the employee acting within the scope of his employment?
I’m sorry if I’m getting into legalese terms. Sometimes you get too buried in the law, and it’s tough to pull yourself out, but essentially, if you are running an errand for your boss or for your employer, and you get into an accident, the employer is on the hook. You are on the hook too, but the employer is also on the hook. He is responsible for the actions of his employees. Now, we can talk, and we probably will in another video, about the exceptions to that rule, and there’s a lot of case law on this, a lot of rules involved in that. In general, the employer, if the person who gets into a car accident is acting as part of his employment, the business is going to be on the hook.
Outside of that, because that’s a special rule of law, that just simply says the master is responsible for the actions of his agent. Now the question is, let’s say that it is simply you lend a car to a friend, and the friend gets into an accident, are you responsible? The answer is, most of the time, no. You have really no responsible for the actions of other people with one principle exception, and that is what we call “negligent entrustment.” If you know that your friend is a drunk, specifically if you know that your friend is currently drunk, or you know that your friend is an unsafe driver, you know you really shouldn’t hand over those keys, if you hand over the keys, you are responsible.
There’s a plethora of cases that talked about that as well. That certainly doesn’t apply in every case or even the majority of cases, but it absolutely can apply. Now, the final … I think I said there were two ways, I’m going to talk about a third, and that is what we call about the “family responsibility act.” In Nevada, we have a statute that says that if you’re in the household, and you lend your keys to somebody in the household, and they get into an accident, you are going to be responsible, regardless of “negligent entrustment,” regardless of employment, you’re going to be on the hook.
Here in Nevada, those are the three main things that we look for to see if somebody else, if the owner of the vehicle might be responsible and not just the driver. Now the question that he asked is whether he should sue. We always try not to sue if we can, but we always are ready to sue if we cannot resolve the claim without litigation. Anyway, there’s the answer to that, and I hope to see you in another video.