You’re driving down Highway 1. You’re enjoying the scenery. The rolling hills on the left. The ocean on the right. Suddenly a car heading North tries to pass another car. It veers into your lane. You try to go right, but you run into the guard rail. You have no where to go so you brace yourself for the head-on collision. You see the car. You hear a crash. Then, you wake up in a hospital bed. Your body hurts. Your brain is foggy. You’re not sure what to do next. Fortunately, the law helps you recover.
The Duty of Care
California drivers have a duty to use ordinary care and skill while operating a motor vehicle. That means that a driver must act like a reasonably prudent person. A driver’s failure to act like a reasonably prudent person may subject that driver to liability for damages they cause while driving. So, in the example above, the North-bound driver failed to act like a reasonably prudent person when they veered into oncoming traffic, trying to pass a car on Highway 1.
Minors are held to the same standard as adults. So are physically or mentally impaired people.
A driver whose car does not come into physical contact with your car may still be liable. So, say you crash into the railing on the right to avoid the driver trying to pass. You might not actually make contact with that driver’s car, and they can still be liable for the damages caused by their driving.
In addition, there are certain “rules of the road” that impose requirements on drivers. Violations of those rules of the road could mean negligence as a matter of law if reasonable people could conclude the driver:
- Violated a traffic regulation; and
- Did not do what might reasonably be expected of a person of ordinary prudence who wished to comply with the law.
Drivers are also liable for injuries caused by driving with the intent to cause injury. Think of the person purposely running over people in the street. Drivers are even liable for reckless driving without the intent to injure with either 1) knowledge that serious injury is a probable result, or 2) a wanton and reckless disregard of the possible consequences of driving in a particular manner. Think of a person driving too fast and swerving around downtown on a Friday night. They might not be trying to hit people. But, they should know that serious injury is a probable result, or that hitting someone is a possible consequence of driving like that.
Owners of cars are liable for injuries resulting from the car’s negligent or wrongful operation by a permissive user. This is sometimes referred to as “Vicarious Liability”. Vicarious liability can make the owner liable for any overage. Owners may also be liable for injuries resulting from negligently entrusting a vehicle to an unfit, incompetent, or reckless driver, including a co-owner of the vehicle. This is typically referred to as “negligent entrustment”. Negligent entrustment makes the owner liable on their own.
For negligent entrustment to be proven, it must be shown the owner knew, or should have known of the driver’s unfitness as manifested by:
- Lack of license;
- Previous recklessness;
- Physical infirmities;
- Age; or
Car owners must also use reasonable care to equip and maintain the vehicle in compliance with the law including the duty to equip the vehicle as required by statute and as necessary for its safe operation, and the duty to maintain it in reasonably safe running condition. So, say an owner knows their breaks don’t work too well. They could be liable for that.
Car owners also must take precautions against theft. For example, say the driver in the above scenario walked on to someone’s property, opened the unlocked car door, and found the keys in the ignition. In addition to the driver, the owner of the car could be liable for the victim’s injuries.
A parent, guardian, adult spouse, or employer who signs and verifies a minor’s driver’s license application is jointly and severally liable with the minor for damage caused by the minor’s negligent driving. So, for example, say the driver in the example above was 17, and his parents signed and verified his license application, his parents could be liable.
Employers can be liable for injuries caused by their employees while they are driving as long as the employee is acting within the course and scope of employment. Apart from this “vicarious liability” employers may be personally liable for damages caused by drivers if they knowingly entrust a vehicle to someone who is unfit to drive.
Damages Caused by Negligence
Unfortunately, there is no way to undue what has been done. Under the law if you, or someone you love, was hurt or killed (this is called a wrongful death case in California ), in an automobile accident you could be entitled to money to compensate for your pain, suffering, emotional distress, out of pocket losses, such as medical and related expenses, loss of income, and the loss or cost of services. But, you can also be entitled to things like burial costs, loss of use of property, loss of consortium, costs of repair or replacement, costs of obtaining substitute services, loss of employment and loss of business or employment opportunities. This is true whether it’s a car accident, bike accident, or cross-walk accident.
If you, or someone you love, was hurt, or killed, in a car accident, you need experienced lawyers to fight for your rights. Insurance companies are rich and powerful. They have lobbyists. They have high priced lawyers. The deck is stacked against you. Which is why you want a lawyer who will fight hard for you.
We have been going toe to toe for the average Joe since 2010. We have helped countless people who have been hurt by corruption, greed, and recklessness. We offer a free, confidential case evaluation. If we think we’re in a position to help, we’ll call, email, or text, to set up a free consultation. If we don’t think we’re in a position to help, we’ll send you an email providing you some resources to help you understand your rights, help you understand the law, and help you find a lawyer who might be able to help. We know you probably can’t afford a high-priced lawyer. So, we take cases on a contingency fee basis. That means that you don’t owe us any fees unless we collect for you. What do you have to lose?