Third Party Liability in Vehicle Collision Claims

by | Sep 7, 2021 | Car Accidents

Although the Bluegrass State has a mandatory auto insurance law, Kentucky has one of the highest percentages of uninsured drivers in the country. At the same time, Kentucky also has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the nation. So, there are many drivers in Fayette County who are either completely uninsured or dangerously uninsured.

Therefore, vicarious liability, or third-party liability, is very important in many vehicle collision claims. These legal theories give a Lexington personal injury attorney additional sources of compensation in serious injury wrecks. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, as well as noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Employer Liability

There is evidence that the rise of Lyft, Uber, and other ridesharing services has increased the number of distracted driving wrecks. The aforementioned insurance issues are especially important in this context. Most personal insurance policies don’t cover commercial claims. So, many ridesharing operators are completely uninsured.

Respondeat superior (“let the master answer”) normally applies in these situations. This legal doctrine, which also comes up in truck driver, taxi driver, and other commercial operator crashes, applies if:

  • Employee: Ridesharing operators, and most other commercial operators, are non-employees for financial and other purposes. But these individuals are employees for negligence purposes. Employers control these drivers, at least to some extent. That tiny bit of control is the only thing the law requires.
  • Scope of Employment: Kentucky law also defines this respondeat superior prong in broad, victim-friendly terms. Any act which benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. For example, deadheading (driving aimlessly waiting for a fare) is within the scope of employment. The employer benefits because drivers are on call and these vehicles usually bear a corporate logo, which means free advertising.

On the subject of ridesharing operators, some injuries, like assaults are not within the scope of employment. However, ridesharing companies, and other employers, could be liable for these injuries as well, under a theory like negligent hiring or negligent supervision.

Basically, negiigent hiring is hiring an incompetent worker. As the ridesharing driver shortage continues, these companies might well reduce their low hiring standards even further. Negligent supervision is failing to monitor employees and/or failing to take appropriate disciplinary action.

Alcohol Provider Liability

Many states have rolled back their dram shop laws in recent years, or even eliminated them altogether. These laws hold restaurants, clubs, and other commercial providers vicariously liable for alcohol-related car crash damages. It also applies to alcohol-fueled assaults and other such incidents. Such providers have a chance to stop many such injuries before they happen if they simply put safety above profits and avoided illegal alcohol sales. 

In Kentucky, it’s illegal for such providers to sell alcohol if a “reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances should know that the person served is already intoxicated at the time of serving.” Evidence of intoxication at the point of sale includes physical symptoms like:

  • Bloodshot eyes,
  • Slurred speech,
  • Odor of alcohol,
  • Prior purchases at that establishment, and
  • Unsteady balance.

The burden of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, a little evidence goes a long way.

Foreseeability is sometimes an issue in packaged alcohol sales. However, it’s usually foreseeable that a drunk person who buys chilled beer will open a bottle on the way home.

Owner Liability

Just like employers are liable for their employees’ negligence, owners are liable if they allow incompenent operators to use their motor vehicles. This theory is called negligent entrustment. Evidence of incompetence includes:

  • No drivers’ license,
  • Safety-suspended drivers’ license,
  • Violating a license restriction (e.g. a teen driver with teen passengers),
  • Recent at-fault collisions, and
  • Poor driving record.

This evidence is roughly in order. Unlicensed drivers are usually incompetent as a matter of law, regardless of their experience behind the wheel, if any. On the opposite end of the scale, a poor driving record, by itself, usually doesn’t prove incompetence.

Commercial negligent entrustment cases, such as a U-Haul wreck, work a bit differently, because of the federal Graves Amendment.

Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters. #goodelawyers