Court Discusses the Doctrine of Imputed Negligence in Recent Car Accident Case

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing an issue that may have increasing importance in Virginia car accident cases. The case required the court to determine if a defendant can assert an imputed negligence defense against an owner-passenger who is injured due to the alleged negligence of someone whom she allowed to use her car.

Although this defense was historically permitted, the court held that recent changes in the law and how insurance policies are written no longer provide support for the defense. Thus, the court held that the defense was not valid.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a woman who was waiting in the front-passenger seat of a car she owned while her husband – the driver – ran into a restaurant to grab the couple’s order. The plaintiff’s husband had parked the vehicle in a lane that was perpendicular to the defendant’s truck. As the defendant backed out of the parking space, he crashed into the plaintiff’s vehicle.

At trial, the defendant claimed that the plaintiff’s husband was negligent for parking where he did and that this negligence should be imputed to the plaintiff, who allowed her husband to drive the car.

The trial court concluded that the woman’s husband was negligent, and since the woman allowed her husband to drive the car, her husband’s negligence was imputed to her. The court also determined that this negligence was a cause of the accident and precluded her from recovering compensation for her injuries. The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the court considered the continued use of the imputed-negligence doctrine as it pertains to an owner-passenger who is free from fault herself but is injured by the alleged negligence of the driver of her vehicle. The court acknowledged that the doctrine has been in place for years and has precluded recovery in this very type of case up until now. However, the court determined that the doctrine should no longer be applied by the courts.

The court based its decision on the evolution of the law as well as that of the insurance industry. For one, the court explained that insurance policies now contain an “omnibus” clause, which provides coverage for accidents caused by permissive drivers. Thus, today’s insurance policies would likely cover an owner-passenger’s injuries caused by a permissive driver. The court also discussed the legal fiction that the owner of a vehicle has “control” over that vehicle when it is being operated by a permissive driver. The court explained that, in some cases, it makes sense to hold the owner responsible for a permissive driver’s negligence, but the court also held that it does not make sense to prevent an owner from recovering for her injuries based on that driver’s negligence.

Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Car Accident?

If you have recently been involved in a car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. In Virginia, imputed negligence does still exist in some forms, and the doctrine can act to preclude recovery in some circumstances. However, the recent trend across the country has been to do away with this doctrine, as the case discussed above illustrates. The dedicated Virginia personal injury attorneys at the law offices of The Schupak Law Firm have decades of experience handling cutting-edge legal issues in all types of personal injury cases. To schedule a free consultation with Attorney Sidney Schupak to discuss your case, call 703-491-7070. Calling is free, and we will not bill you for our services unless we are able to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

See More Blog Posts:

Court Rejects Plaintiff’s Product Liability Case After Finding Warnings Were Adequate, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, April 18, 2018.

Court Discusses Admissibility of Plaintiff’s Social Media Account, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, April 2, 2018.

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