Could you be held liable in civil court for someone else’s injuries in a traffic accident that didn’t even involve you?

When a traffic crash happens in the San Antonio area, the first legal question is “Which party was responsible?”

In most cases, if a driver wasn’t driving with reasonable care and caution, that driver is the person deemed liable for damages and injuries arising from an accident. But that’s not always the end of the story.

WHAT IS VICARIOUS LIABILITY?

Liability for a traffic collision may sometimes fall on a person who wasn’t driving – even on someone who wasn’t at the accident scene. It’s called “vicarious liability.”

In some cases, if you loan your vehicle to a family member, friend, neighbor, or employee, it’s possible that you might be considered “vicariously” liable for any accidents, damages, or injuries that happen.

It may seem unfair, but “third persons” are probably liable in more instances than you think.

WHEN DOES VICARIOUS LIABILITY APPLY?

In what kind of situations might you be compelled to pay for an accident that you weren’t even involved in? Vicarious liability may apply:

1. when you loan your vehicle to an unreliable driver (“negligent entrustment”)
2. when you loan your vehicle to an employee (“respondeat superior”)

WHAT IS NEGLIGENT ENTRUSTMENT?

If you permitted someone to drive your vehicle and you knew – or should have known – that the person was negligent or dangerous behind the wheel, you could be found liable under “negligent entrustment” if that driver causes a collision.

For example, when parents loan their teenagers the family car, parents in most cases may be held accountable for any careless, negligent, or reckless driving, accidents, and injuries.

If you loan your vehicle to an underage driver or to a friend, neighbor, relative, or a co-worker known to have drug and/or alcohol issues, and/or previous accidents or reckless driving incidents, and an accident happens, a claim will probably be filed against your auto insurance.

WHAT ABOUT COMPANY-OWNED VEHICLES DRIVEN BY EMPLOYEES?

“Respondeat superior” is a Latin legal term meaning “let the master respond.”

When a company-owned vehicle is involved in an accident because an employee was driving negligently, the company may be held liable for damages and/or injuries under respondeat superior.

Employers are usually legally responsible for damages and/or injuries caused by employees driving employer-owned vehicles.

However, employers are liable for the consequences of an employee’s negligent driving only when that negligent driving happens in the “course and scope” of the employee’s job duties.

HOW IS THE “COURSE AND SCOPE” OF A JOB DETERMINED?

How is the “course and scope” of an employee’s job duties determined? In most cases, it’s not a difficult call to make.

When an employee causes a crash while driving to make a delivery to a customer or client, the employer is probably liable as the crash happened in the course and scope of the driver’s employment duties.

But if the driver takes an employer-owned vehicle on a two-hour unauthorized trip to the mall, and there’s an accident in the parking lot, the employer probably will not be considered liable.

In most cases in Texas, employers are liable for the behavior of employees who are on-duty or on “the clock.”

Still, employers are not liable for behavior outside the “course and scope” of the job.

If a delivery driver runs you off the road intentionally – in an incident of road rage, for example – the employer probably isn’t liable, since committing a crime isn’t a part of making deliveries.

WHAT DOES VICARIOUS LIABILITY MEAN FOR YOU?

Vicarious liability means that before you have an employee drive for your business, and before you let anyone operate your personal vehicle, you should know that you’re asking for trouble by letting any of the persons listed here get behind the wheel:

1. unlicensed or inexperienced drivers
2. drivers with drug/and or alcohol issues
3. sick or injured drivers who may be partially incapacitated or using medication
4. elderly drivers who may have declining vision, hearing, and response times
5. drivers convicted of reckless or careless driving, speeding, or driving under the influence

CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF FROM VICARIOUS LIABILITY?

If you’re a parent, you must speak – usually more than once – with your teenagers about distracted and intoxicated driving.

Teens may need to be reminded that no beer, pot, video games, cell phones, horseplay, or other distractions are permitted while driving – no exceptions.

Employers must be meticulous when hiring anyone who will drive a company vehicle. Employers that hire multiple drivers on a regular basis should establish and adhere to safe driving policies, programs, and procedures.

CAN OTHER THIRD PARTIES BE LIABLE FOR ACCIDENTS AND INJURIES?

In three other situations, a third party may be considered liable for damages and injuries sustained in a traffic collision in Texas.

1. If an accident happens because of a vehicle defect or vehicle part defect, someone injured in that accident may file a product liability claim against the maker of the defective vehicle or part.

2. If a street, highway, bridge, or overpass is negligently constructed or negligently maintained or repaired, and that negligence causes an accident, in some cases, state highway officials and/or contractors for the state could be held accountable.

3. And under the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, establishments serving alcohol may be held liable for an accident and injuries if an establishment serves alcohol to an obviously intoxicated patron who then causes a collision.

HOW CAN AN INJURY ATTORNEY HELP?

If you are injured in a traffic accident in the San Antonio area, speak at once to an experienced San Antonio personal injury attorney who can explain your rights and determine if you have grounds for a personal injury claim.

Your attorney can also determine if a third party – a negligent driver’s employer, for example – may be liable. A successful third-party claim can increase the amount of compensation available to a victim of negligence.

And that’s particularly important if you’ve sustained a catastrophic or disabling injury, because you’ll need every dollar of compensation for long-term medical care and treatment.

If you’ve been injured by negligence, and if you can prove it with an attorney’s help, you will be entitled to full compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and all other losses and damages arising from the accident and injury.

You must act at once if you are injured by a negligent driver – or if you’re injured in an accident where a third party has liability.

IS THERE A TIME LIMIT FOR TAKING LEGAL ACTION?

In most personal injury cases in Texas, you must take legal action within two years of the date of your injury.

Don’t wait two years to seek legal advice. A San Antonio personal injury attorney will review your case for free, so it costs nothing to learn more about your rights after you’ve been injured.

After a serious accident, don’t risk your health and future. Get the legal help you need. You’ll pay nothing until and unless your injury claim prevails, and it’s your right.