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Absentee Liability—Can You Be Responsible for a Motor Vehicle Accident If You Weren’t There at the Time of the Crash?

August 2, 2018 Motor Vehicle Accident


In the aftermath of a motor vehicle accident, particularly if you’ve been hurt in the crash, it’s customary to take a look at the actions of everyone involved in the wreck to see who caused the accident. But you may need to look beyond the parties involved in the collision if you want to get full and fair compensation for all your losses. It may seem counterintuitive, but there’s often potential liability for someone who was nowhere near the scene at the time of the accident. Let’s look at some specific examples.

The Person Who Hit You Was Working at the Time

There’s a longstanding legal principle, known as respondeat superior, which holds an employer responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee, provided the employee was acting in the scope of his employee at the time of the accident. If the person who hit you was driving at the request of his or her employer and engaged in work-related tasks, the employer will typically have liability. If, on the other hand, the employee was on a personal errand or performing a personal task at the time of the accident, the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply.

The Owner of the Car that Hit You Wasn’t Driving

In many states, the responsibility for insurance coverage follows the car, not the driver. Accordingly, if the owner of the car let someone else borrow it and that person caused the accident, the owner may still have responsibility.

You Were Hit by a Minor

There are a couple theories under which you can recover from the parents of a driver who hit you (while driving the parents’ car). The first is based on the legal concept of negligent entrustment, and requires that the parent have knowledge of the child’s carelessness or past negligent behavior behind the wheel. Negligent entrustment does not apply if the parent had no reason to believe that the child presented a risk. The other theory is one of vicarious liability, which is similar to respondeat superior. If the parent sent the child on an errand and the child caused an accident, the parent may be liable.

Contact Our Office

At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie, Seelaus & Kraft LLP, we offer experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel to individuals in Pennsylvania. To set up an appointment for a free initial consultation, call us at 610-565-4055 or 302-594-4535 or contact us online.

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