IF I LEND MY CAR TO A FRIEND OR RELATIVE, AM I LEGALLY RESPONSIBLE IF HE OR SHE CAUSES AN ACCIDENT WHEN DRIVING MY CAR?
I am routinely asked if New Jersey law imposes legal liability if one were to lend his/her car to a friend or relative and that person is involved in an at fault accident in which someone suffers injuries and files a lawsuit. The short answer is “no” with a few exceptions. New Jersey law does not create legal liability to you the owner for the negligence of the person to whom you lent your car. Although the auto policy insuring your car would provide coverage for the negligence for the permissive driver, you would not be subject to personal liability beyond the limits of the auto policy.
The exceptions to the rule would be as follows: 1) if you lend your car to someone whom you observe to be intoxicated and impaired and that person drives while intoxicated, causes an accident and injures others, you may be sued and legally responsible for your negligence for lending your car to someone who is under the influence. You would not be sued for the negligence of the driver but rather your own independent negligence in acting unreasonably in allowing someone whom you observe to be intoxicated to nevertheless drive your vehicle. 2) if you allow someone to drive your car to perform a service for you, such as a nanny in your employ to drive your children to and from school or camp or to do shopping and she causes an accident that results in personal injuries, you may be legally liable for the negligent acts of your employee. This is known under New Jersey law as vicarious liability.
However, if you are simply being kind and allowing your friend or family member to use your car and there is no indication that that person is impaired or the person is not performing a task on your behalf, then you would have absolutely no liability for that person’s negligence in his/her operation of the car.
I hope this clarifies a frequently asked question that I have encountered as a New Jersey Personal Injury attorney. If you find that you have been injured as a result of the negligence of another whether it be by way of an automobile accident, unsafe premises, dog attack or medical malpractice, our firm practices solely in the area of personal injury and is committed to provide quality and aggressive representation to our clients. If you have a need, please contact us today. The initial consultation is free and if we determine that you have a viable claim, we will represent you on a contingency fee basis which means that you do not pay any legal fees unless you win your case.