Anyone sustaining personal injury or property damage because of the negligent conduct of the operator of a motor vehicle may recover monetary compensation for provable damages resulting from such conduct. In many cases, however, the law imposes civil liability not only upon the operator of the vehicle, but also from the vehicle’s owner, as well.
I. NEGLIGENT ENTRUSTMENT
The owner of a motor vehicle who lends or entrusts his vehicle to an incompetent driver may be held personally responsible for any personal injuries or property damage caused to another person, if the owner knew or should have known that the driver was incompetent to operate the vehicle.
Example: The owner decides to lend his automobile to his friend, who the owner knows has a long history of speeding tickets and traffic citations, and has a tendency to drive fast and furious. The driver causes an accident in which the victim is seriously injured. The victim may sue the owner, as well as the driver because the owner knew, or reasonably should have known the driver’s history for recklessness, and the owner nevertheless let the reckless driver use his automobile.
Example: While at a party, the owner lets the driver, who has been drinking to excess, borrow his truck to get more ice. While enroute the driver causes an accident in which the victim is injured. The victim may sue the owner, as well as the driver, because the owner knew, or reasonably should have known that the driver was incompetent to operate a motor vehicle.
II. PERMITTING UNAUTHORIZED PERSON TO DRIVE
Under Pennsylvania law, it is illegal for any owner of a motor vehicle to permit an unlicensed driver to operate the vehicle. In the event that an unlicensed driver causes an accident, the vehicle owner will be held liable for any money damages awarded to the injured party.
Example: The owner, knowing that the driver’s license has been suspended, nevertheless agrees to loan him his automobile. On the way to work, the driver causes an accident in which the victim is injured. The owner will be held liable to the victim for the victim’s injuries.
III PERMITTING VEHICLE TO BE DRIVEN ILLEGALLY
The Pennsylvania Vehicle Code provides that no owner or person in control of a motor vehicle shall authorize or knowingly permit the vehicle to be driven in violation of the vehicle code. In addition to criminal penalties, the owner may be held liable for the injuries caused to another.
Example: The owner and his friend and take the owner’s car on a trip. While his friend is driving, the owner lets him set the cruise control at 90 mph.
His friend causes an accident in which the victim, is injured and receives a citation for speeding and reckless driving, resulting in a six month license suspension.
The owner is subject to the same fines and license suspension as his friend and the owner is liable for any injuries to the victim.
IV. SPECIAL RULES FOR BOATS, WATERCRAFT, SNOWMOBILES AND ATV’s
By statute, every owner of a boat or watercraft (egg, jet ski, etc). and every owner of a snowmobile or ATV is automatically liable for any injuries sustained to another arising out of the operation of such motorized device.
Example: The owner loans the driver his wave runner [or ATV] for an afternoon. The driver, while operating the wave runner [or ATV] causes an accident, injuring the victim. The owner is equally liable for the victim’s injuries even though the owner had no prior knowledge that the driver would be careless.
Even though it may be a gesture of good faith to loan a vehicle to a friend or to permit another to operate one of our Motorized toys, the risk involved in doing so is very significant. At the very least, it is important to recognize this and to assure that the motorized possession is covered by adequate insurance before permitting another to operate it. Please use appropriate judgment and have a safe summer