Recently, our New York City car accident attorneys wrote about a case in which an alleged claim of vicarious liability was shot down by the New York Appeals Court on the basis that it was preempted by the state’s workers’ compensation law as an exclusive remedy.
Now, however, another case has arisen that allows us to address the flip side of the coin, which is that there are plenty of situations when New York car accident victims can reasonably claim third-party negligence of a vehicle owner through vicarious liability. This is the legal principle that holds that an actor who is not technically at-fault can be held liable for injuries caused by another person.
In the case of Christensen v. Bowen, the issue arose from a wrongful death action in which the vehicle owner was sued for negligence, even though he hadn’t been driving.
Court records tell us that the vehicle had been purchased back in 2003 by the driver’s then-husband. A certificate of title was placed in both of their names, listing them as co-owners. The couple later divorced, but remained co-owners on the title.
The husband didn’t have a key, he didn’t use the vehicle, didn’t reside with his ex-wife and didn’t have access to the garage where the vehicle was kept. Still, the car was in his name as a co-owner.
About two year after the vehicle was purchased, the wife was involved in an accident in which she negligently struck and killed another driver. At the time of that crash, the vehicle remained in both her and her husband’s name.
Soon after, the widow of the man who was killed filed a wrongful death action as executor of her husband’s estate. In that lawsuit, she named both the driver and her husband, whom she listed as vicariously liable for his ex-wife’s actions.
However, the husband countered that he wasn’t negligent because the vehicle had been purchased as a gift to his wife, and he had no involvement with it after that point. The trial jury sided with the husband, finding that he had no right of control or authority over its use.
The widow appealed, and upon rehearing of her motion, the district court reversed the ruling of the trial court. That decision was later affirmed by the Florida Supreme Court on the grounds that the vehicle owner had retained an identifiable property interest in the car by continuing to have his name on the title as co-owner. Whatever intent he had in signing the title documents didn’t relieve him of vicarious liability as a title holder.
Laws regarding vicarious liability following a car accident vary from state-to-state, so it’s important to consult with an experienced attorney in your region to explore your options.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations on New York City personal injury cases. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Christensen v. Bowen, April 10, 2014, Florida Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
New York Appeals Court: Vehicle Owner Not Liable Per Exclusive Remedy Defense, April 2, 2014, New York City Car Accident Lawyer Blog