The Most Common Vicarious Liability Theories In Car Wreck Claims
Most California drivers are underinsured. The Golden State has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the country. Many drivers have only $30,000 of bodily injury coverage. That amount barely covers the hospital stay in many cases. There might be no coverage left for things like physical therapy, transportation expenses, and prescription drugs. Furthermore, the state minimum property damage coverage is only $5,000. Even if the victim drove a small, cheap car, that amount might be not nearly enough to replace it.
So, vicarious liability is very important in a catastrophic injury car crash claim. Most people are judgement-proof. Unless a San Jose car accident attorney identifies an additional source of recovery, catastrophe injury victims and survivors could be left holding the financial bag, in terms of both property damage and medical bills.
If the tortfeasor (negligent driver) didn’t own the vehicle, the lack -of-insurance problem is often acute. Typically, insurance policies are driver-specific and vehicle-specific. They only cover vehicle owners, and perhaps one other person, in that vehicle.
Fortunately, the negligent entrustment doctrine usually applies in these situations. Owners are vicariously liable for car wreck injuries if they knowingly allowed an incompetent user to operate the vehicle, and that operator caused a wreck. Evidence of incompetency includes:
- Physical impairment, such as fatigue or intoxication,
- No drivers’ license,
- A safety-suspended drivers’ license,
- Driving in violation of an eyeglasses-required or other restriction,
- Poor driving record, and
- Inexperience operating a certain kind of vehicle or driving in a certain area.
In court, victim/plaintiffs must prove both knowledge and incompetency by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). That’s the lowest standard of proof in California law.
U-Haul moving truck and other commercial negligent entrustment cases are a little different, because of the Graves Amendment. In addition to knowledge and driver incompetence, these victims must prove the owner or agent either only rented vehicles on the side or was somehow negligent during the transaction itself.
Large vehicles, like semi-trucks and intercity buses, often cause extremely catastrophic injuries. For example, a fully-loaded semi-truck weighs over 80,000 pounds. That weight includes hundreds of gallons of highly-flammable diesel fuel. In many cases, this fuel is stored in external tanks. So, a collision usually involves massive force and a devastating fire.
Events like these almost always cause damages well above the state minimum. Fortunately, the respondeat superior doctrine usually applies in these situations. Employers, like shipping companies, are financially responsible for damages if:
- Employee: Commercial drivers, like truck drivers, are very rarely employees for tax purposes. But they are almost always employees for negligence purposes. That’s because the employer controls these individuals, at least to an extent.
- Scope of Employment: In ye olden days, the scope of employment was limited to situations like a regular delivery driver making regular delivery routes. Today, this phrase encompasses any activity which benefits the employer in any way.
In addition to compensation for medical bills and property damage, vehicle collision victims are also entitled to compensation for their noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages are often available as well, in some extreme cases.
Contact a Savvy Santa Clara County Lawyer
The tortfeasor may not be the only party that’s responsible for damages in a vehicle collision claim. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in San Jose, contact Solution Now Law Firm. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.