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After a car accident, can the at-fault driver, or car owner be sued? Or can both be sued?

February 6, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

When someone causes a car accident, it’s not always cut and dry as to who is liable — especially in situations where the driver who caused the crash does not own the car.

Here’s a question I often receive:

Q. Suppose a person is really badly injured a car crash, but the driver who caused the wreck doesn’t own the car. Who can be sued? Would it be the at-fault driver, the owner of the car, or both?

A. The short answer is both the at-fault driver and the owner of the car can be sued. Under Michigan law – where I practice law and where almost all of my cases are auto accident or truck accident injuries – if a driver’s negligence causes an innocent person to be injured, then the injured person may sue the wrongdoer who is responsible for the negligent act (the driver) and the car’s owner as well.

That last part strikes some people as unfair. However, a vehicle’s “owner is not liable unless the motor vehicle is being driven with his or her express or implied consent or knowledge.” This is often referred to as Michigan’s “owner liability law.” In the context of a car accident in Michigan or in another state with an owner’s liability law, a motor vehicle’s owner can also be sued. In Michigan, it is MCL 257.401(1) provides that “[t]he owner of a motor vehicle is liable for an injury caused by the negligent operation of the motor vehicle whether the negligence consists of a violation of a statute of this state or the ordinary care standard required by common law.”

Many other states have very similar owners liability laws.

For more our owner’s liability law, check out this Michigan Auto Law blog post: What happens if someone is driving my vehicle and they’re in a car accident?

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