Negligence in Tennessee: When are You Liable for Someone Else's Driving? | The Law Offices of G Turner Howard III

If someone driving your vehicle is involved in an accident, will you be held liable? Does is matter if you were in the car? These are common questions, and the answer can vary depending on a variety of factors. While it’s widely believed that liability will be placed on the at-fault driver, this isn’t always the case in these types of situations. Determining whose insurance policy will cover the damages primarily depends on the insurance policies involved as well as the circumstances that led to someone else driving your vehicle.

To begin, you should always be aware of who you allow to drive your vehicle and take certain precautions before ever handing over your keys. However, in the event that you let a friend, acquaintance, or family member drive your vehicle, here are some of the factors that determine whether you’ll be held liable for their driving if they are involved in an accident.

Owner’s Liability and Negligence Entrustment

Generally, the owner of the vehicle will provide the primary liability coverage in any accident involving their vehicle, even if someone else is driving it. This is known as ownership liability. If your vehicle was wrecked by someone else, your insurance will usually pay up to its limits before the driver’s insurance takes over. However, depending on the type of insurance policy you have, you could be faced with paying more than your policy limit or the entire amount.

Another situation in which the owner of the vehicle would assume liability is in the case of negligence entrustment. This means that the owner of the vehicle (the entrustor) is held liable for negligence because they negligently or knowingly provided another person with the vehicle when they were unfit to drive. Here are some cases that would result in negligence entrustment.

Children Driving the Car of a Parent

In many states, including Tennessee, parents can be liable for their child’s negligent driving if they allow their child to use the family car. The Family Purpose Doctrine imposes liability on the head of a household for the negligent operation of a motor vehicle by another family member. The doctrine is often used to hold a parent liable for an accident caused by a driving age child. However, it can be applied to other family relationships as well. The main dilemma faced here is that adding family members to your insurance increases the cost, but leaving them off can result in increased liability for their driving. It’s important to weigh your options regarding whether to add certain family members to your insurance, or whether you should let them drive your vehicle at all.

Employees Driving a Company Car

By law, employees are held responsible for the negligence of any employee driving a company vehicle as long as they are performing duties related to the job. If an employee is driving a company vehicle during work hours and get into an accident due to their negligence, the employer will most likely be held liable for damages to both vehicles. This is typically ruled as “vicarious liability” in court.

Unlicensed or Incompetent Drivers

This may seem obvious, but you should never let someone without a driver’s license operate your vehicle. Likewise, you should never let someone with a record of poor driving (DUI, reckless driving, etc.) drive your vehicle. If you loan your vehicle to an unlicensed or incompetent driver, your insurance will likely pay out, and in some cases the victims of the car accident can sue you for negligence.

Drivers Under the Influence

It’s somewhat common for people to hand over their keys to a more ‘confident’ driver in the case that they have both been drinking alcohol, and often times the owner of the vehicle takes this action assuming they will avoid potential charges and liability—but this simply isn’t the case. If you knowingly let someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs operate your vehicle, you will most certainly be held liable if an accident takes place. If a severe accident takes place, you could potentially be charged as an accessory to crime as well.

Defective Vehicle

While not very common, sometimes a defective vehicle can be the cause of an accident. If your car has ongoing issues or needs service that you are aware of, knowingly allowing someone to drive it can result in you being held liable. These cases primarily rely on whether there were clear issues with the vehicle and whether you were aware of them prior to letting someone else drive. If you weren’t aware, there is less case for negligence.

Always Take Precautions to Protect Yourself

While loaning your vehicle to a friend or family member may seem like the right thing to do, be aware that you may be held liable for their driving. It’s often an unspoken understanding that the driver be responsible and take responsibility for their actions, but in the end you may find yourself taking primary responsibility, whether in the form of your insurance covering damages, or you being sued for negligence. Always take precautions to ensure that:

  • You are aware of your insurance policy and who is covered to drive your vehicle
  • No one without a license or a history of reckless driving operates your vehicle
  • No one under the influence of alcohol or drugs drives your vehicle
  • No ongoing issues with your car could cause a driver to become involved in an accident

Whether you loaned your car to someone, you wrecked a borrowed car, or someone borrowing a car caused you to become involved in an accident, the best way to receive the advice you need is by contacting a trusted car accident attorney. Providing an attorney with the details of the accident will give you the best opportunity to avoid liability and monetary consequences.


G. Turner Howard IIIprofile2 is one of the most experienced personal injury lawyers in Knoxville, TN. He has earned an outstanding reputation through positive results and relationships with satisfied clients. That reputation is rewarded with the most Five-Star reviews by clients of any personal injury lawyer in the region.  After spending his secondary years of study at The McCallie School in Chattanooga, G Turner Howard III earned his BA at Tulane University. A member of the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association, he received his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law.  He also served as a 1st Lieutenant in the US Army in Vietnam.

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