Three Major Car Crash Vicarious Liability Theories in Kentucky

by | Jul 25, 2022 | Car Accidents

Many people assumed that since pandemic lockdowns decreased vehicle traffic, the number of fatal collisions would go down as well. Instead, the number of fatal car wrecks shot up to historic highs in 2020 and 2021. The numbers show little improvement in the first half of 2022. 

Usually, drivers are legally responsible for these wrecks. In fact, driver error causes about 98 percent of the vehicle collisions in Kentucky. A third party is almost always financially responsible for these wrecks. Generally, the tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) auto insurance company is financially responsible for them. In a significant number of cases, a non-driver party is financially responsible for them.

Vicarious liability, or third party liability, is especially important for Lexington personal injury lawyers in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases. Frequently, drivers don’t have enough insurance coverage to provide fair compensation in these cases. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages are available as well, in some extreme cases.

Negligent Entrustment

The aforementioned lack of insurance is a very big issue in non-owner wrecks. Typically, non-owners have little or no insurance in these cases.

Under the negligent entrustment theory, owners are vicariously liable for car crash damages if they knowingly allow incompetent operators to drive their motor vehicles, and the incompetent operator causes a crash. Evidence on this point includes:

  • Prior speeding and other such citations,
  • Previous at-fault collisions,
  • Driving in violation of a license restriction (e.g. no night driving), and
  • No valid drivers’ license.

A Lexington personal injury lawyer must prove both knowledge and incompetence by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

Kentucky courts recognize the family purpose doctrine. As a result, negligent entrustment cases that involve vehicle loans to other family members are easier to win in the Bluegrass State.

However, Kentucky, unlike many other states, doesn’t have a vicarious liability law. Therefore, commercial negligent entrustment cases, liek U-Haul truck wrecks, are very difficult to win. The federal Graves Amendment gives these companies limited immunity in these cases. Fortunately, the Graves Amendment has several loopholes, so it’s not impossible to successfully sue the company in these situations.

Dram Shop Liability

More drunk driving is one of the main reasons the number of fatal car crashes has increased. DUI law enforcement activities dropped off to almost nothing during much of 2020. As a result, drivers got into the habit of driving under the influence of alcohol.

These tortfeasors obtained this alcohol from somewhere. In Kentucky, if a commercial provider like a restaurant or bar, serves an obviously intoxicated person, that provider could be vicariously liable for car crash damages. Evidence of intoxication at the point of sale includes:

  • Bloodshot eyes,
  • Slurred speech,
  • Unsteady balance,
  • Slow reflexes, and
  • Odor of alcohol.

Prior alcohol purchases are telling as well. Most people are legally drunk after they have about three servings.

The dram shop law could apply in other situations as well, such as unlicensed sales and underage sales. Authorities routinely suspend liquor licenses as a punitive measure. Generally, providers are strictly liable for underage sales. Most excuses, like “s/he looked older,” don’t hold up in court.

Respondeat Superior

This vicarious liability rule almost always applies in Uber driver, truck driver, and other commercial operator cases. This rule has three basic elements:

  • Employee: Uber drivers and many other commercial operators are non-employees, like independent contractors, for most purposes. However, since the company controls them in some ways, these drivers are employees for negligence purposes.
  • Scope of Employment: In ye olden days, the scope of employment was a limited concept that only applied in situations like a regular delivery driver making regular delivery routes. Today, the scope of employment label applies to any act which benefits the employer in any way.
  • Foreseeability: Basically, foreseeability means possibility. If someone breaks into the motor pool, steals a car, and causes a crash, the wreck is not foreseeable. Generally, however, a car crash is always a possible result.

Other employer liability theories, which often apply in assault and other intentional tort claims, include negligent hiring and negligent entrustment.

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. Virtual, home, and hospital visits are available.