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Liability for Driver When Owner is a Passenger

Subject to two very specific exceptions, where the owner of a vehicle allows someone else to drive that vehicle and the owner suffers personal injuries when the driver causes an accident, the owner cannot pursue civil damages against the at-fault driver. For example, you want your friend to drive you to a concert. While your friend is driving, he runs through a red light and crashes into another vehicle. You sustain personal injuries as a result. Because you allowed your friend to drive your vehicle, you will be barred from pursuing damages against him unless the accident was subject to at least one of the two available exceptions. The first exception allows you to pursue the driver if you can prove they were intoxicated at the time of the accident. The other exception allows you to pursue the driver if you can prove they willfully caused the accident. This rule is codified under California Vehicle Code section 17158. There is much debate as to why this rule has been codified under California law. One of the leading rationales is that the owner is the sole individual who is in the best position to determine who he/she wants to have drive his/her vehicle. As such, the owner is best equipped to choose a competent and responsible individual to drive their car. Thus, it would be “unfair” for the owner to later pursue that driver if the driver injures them in an accident because the owner could have avoided allowing the driver to operate the vehicle in the first place. This reasoning, as evident, clearly doesn’t take into account the fact that owners do not have a crystal ball to see if they will be injured by the driver, and this reasoning necessarily concludes that the owner has assumed that the driver will be negligent in their operation of the vehicle. Before you decide to pursue someone for your personal injuries following an accident, consult a personal injury attorney and determine who you can actually pursue, because the one you might want to pursue may be immune from liability under the law.

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