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Recent Case Finds Truck Owner Vicariously Liable for Driver’s Negligence but Subject to Statutory Liability Maximum

Posted in Firm News

Earlier this month, an appellate court in Florida issued a written opinion in a truck accident case involving an accident caused while the owner of the truck was present in the cab but not operating the truck. The court was required to determine if the truck’s owner should have his liability reduced under a state law that limits an owner’s liability to $100,000 when liability is based only on the fact that the owner loaned the vehicle to another person who negligently caused the accident. The court ultimately determined that the owner did loan the vehicle to the driver and limited his liability accordingly.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs’ daughter attempted to pass the truck owned by the defendant. As their daughter began to pass the truck, she was in a passing zone, but as she entered her own lane of travel, she was in a no-passing zone. When she crossed back into her lane of travel, she noticed another vehicle was stopped, waiting to make a left turn. She quickly applied her brakes and was able to stop; however, the truck behind her was not able to stop and rear-ended her. The plaintiffs’ daughter was killed in the accident, and her parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both the truck’s driver and its owner.

As it turns out, the owner of the truck had been driving but previously asked the passenger to drive while he took a nap in the back.

The jury returned a verdict of $750,000 in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that the plaintiffs’ daughter was partially at fault. In a post-trial motion, the truck’s owner sought to reduce his own liability based on a state statute that limits a vehicle owner’s liability to $100,000 when the only basis of liability is that he loaned the vehicle to another person who negligently caused an accident.

The plaintiffs contested the motion, arguing that since the truck owner was present in the cab at the time of the accident, he never loaned the vehicle to the driver. Instead, the plaintiffs argued that the two were engaged in a “joint venture,” and the statutory limit should not apply. The trial court agreed and rejected the truck owner’s request to limit his liability. The truck owner appealed.

On appeal, the case was reversed in favor of the truck owner. The court explained that the common definition of “loan” is “to give temporary control of property to another without relinquishing ownership with the intent that you regain control over the property.” Here, the court explained that is exactly what the truck’s owner did when he asked the passenger to take over control of the truck while he took a nap.

As a result of this decision, the liability of the truck’s owner will be limited to $100,000; however, the plaintiffs will still be permitted to recover compensation from the driver of the truck, subject to any insurance limitations.

Liability in New Mexico Car Accidents

In New Mexico, when a vehicle owner loans their car to another person who negligently causes an accident, the owner of the vehicle may be liable. As was the case above, there may be limitations to this liability if the owner is not shown to be otherwise negligent. However, these limits will not apply if the accident victim can prove that the owner was negligent in loaning out their vehicle. For example, if the vehicle owner knows that the person to whom they loaned the vehicle has a history of traffic accidents, or if they were intoxicated at the time they handed over possession, limitations on liability may not apply.

Have You Been Injured in a New Mexico Truck Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any type of New Mexico truck accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at the Fine Law Firm have extensive experience assisting their injured clients in seeking the compensation they deserve. Call 505-889-FINE today to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated New Mexico personal injury attorney.

More Blog Posts:

The Dangers of Distracted Driving on New Mexico Roads, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, June 13, 2017.

Questions Emerge About the Safety of Self-Driving Cars and the Liability of Manufacturers and Drivers, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, June 28, 2017.