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Vicarious Liability in Automobile Cases

On March 1, 2006 the amendments to the Insurance Act (“IA”), the Highway Traffic Act (“HTA”) and the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act (“CAIA”), which reformed the rules for vicarious liability with respect to leased and rented automobiles, came into force. Language included in these statutes annulled state “vicarious liability” laws that previously had held vehicle rental and leasing companies liable when a driver without sufficient insurance caused a serious accident. Prior to this legislation, Pennsylvania as well as 15 other states and the District of Columbia had full or limited vicarious liability statues.

On December 22, 2011, the Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed the vicarious liability provisions of 75 Pa.C.S.A. §1574 in Price v. Leibfried,, 2011 Pa. Super. 274. It is generally accepted that, under the statute, an individual that knowingly allows an unlicensed driver to operate her motor vehicle is vicariously liable for the unlicensed driver’s negligent operation. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the drunk driver, Liebfried, and the Superior Court affirmed, finding that pursuant to statute, plaintiff as owner was vicariously liable for Liebfried’s negligent operation of the vehicle and therefore could not recover as the passenger.

In Pennsylvania, you may be liable for damage done to or caused by your car even thought you are not driving it. Employers may be liable, along with their employees, for accidents caused by their employees while operating company vehicles. This type of vicarious liability is generally limited to automobile accidents that occur during the course of employment, and does not apply if the employee was using the vehicle for errands outside of work.

In addition, the common law theory of “negligent entrustment” which can be applicable under Pennsylvania law can make you liable for any injuries caused by a bad driver you trusted with your car. Negligent entrustment may apply when you entrust your car to another driver when you should have reasonably know that the person you let drive your care should not be operating a motor vehicle because of their mental or physical condition.

Where a party releases broker, that does not automatically release the insurance company where there is clear language in the release which purports to keep the insurance company in the case. The decision relies upon Maloney v. Valley Medical Facilities, Inc., 603 Pa. 399, 984 A.2d 478 (2009) and distinguishes Pallante v. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 427 Pa. Super. 371, 629 A.2d 146 (1993).

If you have been injured in an automobile case, please contact Cliff Rieders, Esq. of the Rieders Travis firm to determine whether you may have a claim.