On April 16, 2014, a jury within Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas recently awarded a couple of a hit-and-run a total of $250,000 for their injuries. The victim and his wife were driving along North 5th Street in Philadelphia when their car was rear-end by the defendant. The defendant fled the scene, but not without the license plate being recorded. The plaintiff alleged headaches as well as neck, back and hip pain. During the trial, plaintiffs brought forth evidence of physical therapy, electrical stimulation, massage, exercise and spinal manipulation a treatment for their injuries. Expert witness testified that the plaintiffs injuries, which included spinal desiccation, were permanent, and the victims would likely require surgery and steroid injections.
Particularly interesting in this case, the plaintiff alleged that driver was negligent as well as the owner of the vehicle. When liability is imposed on one person for the failure of another to exercise reasonably prudent care, this is known as the legal doctrine of vicarious liability.
Most commonly, vicarious liability is imputed in situations where a special relationship exists. For example, husband-wife, parent-child, employer-employee, master-servant, or car owner-driver all represent examples that could include vicarious liability.
Essentially, the doctrine assigns liability for injuries to a person who likely did not physically cause the injury. However, as a matter of public policy and due to the legal relationship between the parties, liability is imposed when a person acts negligently.
Operation of Vehicles
Vicarious liability imputed on the owner of a car, where the driver of the car committed a negligent act, varies according to the laws of the state. Pennsylvania does not apply a presumption that the owner of an automobile is liable for negligence when it is operated by another person. This type of liability is most commonly known as “family use” doctrine. Under Pennsylvania law a parent who gives permission to a minor to operate an automobile is not automatically responsible for negligent driving by the minor. Similarly, the existence of a marital relationship does not give rise to vicarious liability on the part of a vehicle owner who permits it to be operated by his or her spouse. Rather, the law is controlled by the traditional principles that the party seeking to impute negligence to the owner of the automobile “must show that the driver was under the control of the owner as fully as if the driver were a paid servant.”
There is also negligent entrustment, which is the act of leaving an object to another whom the lender knows or should reasonably know could use the object to hurt others. It is important to understand the difference between vicarious liability and negligent entrustment. Under the PA Motor Vehicle Code, the owner of a vehicle may not authorize an unlicensed driver to operate it. A person found liable for negligent entrustment will be jointly and severally liable with the driver for any damages caused, if permission to drive is given with the lender’s knowledge that use of the vehicle would be illegal.
Victims of car accidents in Pennsylvania may be eligible for a range of compensatory and non-compensatory benefits that cover damages for monetary as well as non-monetary losses. The experienced litigation attorneys at Solnick & Associates LLC have the skills and training to handle complex automobile accidents. Contact us for a confidential consultation.