In some cases, what seems like a legal loophole or an obscure rule might make all the difference in the world.
Roughly one in six Georgia drivers are uninsured. Frequently, when these tortfeasors (negligent drivers) cause accidents, they flee the scene of the crash. They calculate that the risks of facing the music outweigh the risks of getting caught. But that is the subject of a separate blog.
Many other Georgia motorists are dangerously underinsured. The Peach State has one of the lowest auto insurance minimums in the country. Frequently, drivers carry less than $50,000 of personal injury insurance. In a catastrophic injury case, like a spine injury or a serious burn, that coverage may not be nearly enough.
In situations like these, Marietta car crash lawyers frequently turn to some common third party liability theories. Quite often, the tortfeasor is not the only party that is responsible for damages, as outlined below.
People under 18 cannot legally own cars or other property. Moreover, owners routinely loan their vehicles to roommates, friends, and family members. In these instances, the negligent entrustment rule often comes into play.
Owners who knowingly allow incompetent operators to drive their cars are liable for car crash damages if these individuals cause car crashes. Evidence of incompetency includes:
- No drivers’ license,
- Safety-suspended drivers’ license,
- Drivers’ license restriction violation (e.g. driving without required glasses or driving at night when no nighttime driving is allowed),
- Poor driving record, and
- Driver inexperience.
Note that this evidence is in basically descending order. Unlicensed drivers are usually incompetent as a matter of law, no matter how much experience they have behind the wheel. On the other end of the spectrum, simple inexperience barely creates a presumption of incompetency.
Furthermore, these rules apply in noncommercial negligent entrustment cases. Commercial negligent entrustment matters, such as Enterprise Rent-a-Car, work a bit differently, because of the federal Graves Amendment.
This provision requires additional evidence in negligent entrustment cases. The victim/plaintiff must also prove that the owner or agent was also negligent. For example, failure to perform a drivers’ license check may be negligent. Other restrictions apply as well.
Dram Shop Liability
Vicarious liability theories like negligent entrustment are on the books because certain people can prevent car crashes before they start. If Jose knows Alicia does not have a drivers’ license, she should not loan her his car.
The same principle applies in other areas. Alcohol causes about a third of the fatal car crashes in Cobb County. So, it makes sense to hold restaurants, private clubs, bars, and other commercial providers liable for car crash damages. If these entities did not illegally sell alcohol, there would not be nearly as many of these incidents.
In Georgia, there are basically two types of illegal alcohol sales:
- Under 21: The drinking age is not a random line in the sand. People under 21 are more prone to loss of motor control, lapses in judgment, and other alcohol effects. Therefore, commercial providers are usually liable as a matter of law if they sell to underage customers. Old defenses, like “s/he presented a fake ID,” usually do not hold up in court.
- Noticeable Intoxication: It is also illegal to provide alcohol to any person who is noticeably intoxicated, regardless of age. Evidence of noticeable intoxication includes bloodshot eyes, unsteady balance, odor of alcohol, and unsteady balance.
Additionally, for liability to attach, the crash must be a foreseeable result of the sale. Foreseeability is difficult, but not impossible, to prove in some cases, such as grocery store or other packaged alcohol sales.
Respondeat superior is probably the most common employer liability theory. This rule usually applies in taxi driver, truck driver, Uber driver, bus driver, and other commercial operator cases.
This doctrine has two basic prongs, both of which are broader and victim-friendly than they were even a few years ago.
- Employee: In many areas of law, employees are only people who file W-2s, work regular schedules, and receive regular paychecks. But in this context, any worker the employer controls in any meaningful way is usually an employee. That control could be hours worked or passengers carried. So, independent contractors, owner-operators, and even unpaid volunteers are usually employees for respondeat superior purposes.
- Scope of Employment: Once upon a time, this phrase had a limited meaning. Only events like an everyday delivery driver on a regular route were within the scope of employment. Any deviation could defeat third party liability. But now, any act which benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. Driving an empty vehicle around town could be within the scope of employment. If the vehicle has a company logo, the employer benefits from the free advertising.
Third-party liability is especially important in truck and bus crash cases. Due to the nature of these collisions, most victims experience catastrophic injuries. Without respondeat superior or another theory, it would be difficult for these victims to obtain fair compensation.
Other employer liability theories include negligent hiring and negligent supervision. These theories often apply in assault and other intentional tort matters. Negligent hiring is basically hiring an incompetent person to do a job. Special rules apply with regard to hiring people with criminal records. Negligent supervision is usually either ignoring problems on the job or not taking sufficient action to correct them.
Contact a Tenacious Lawyer
The tortfeasor is often not the only party responsible for damages. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.