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Owner of car may be liable even if another person was driving

Allowing a family member to drive the family car is a common occurrence in California. So is permitting a friend to borrow a car. What happens if the car is involved in an accident? And who is liable for damages if the driver of the borrowed car is responsible for the accident? A recent lawsuit filed in Los Angeles against film star Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson raises these questions in connection with a car accident that occurred in February 2015.

According to the allegations of the complaint, Hanks' and Wilson's son Chester Hanks was under the "influence of drugs and/or alcohol" when he rear-ended a car driven by the plaintiff. The complaint alleges that Hanks and his wife owned the car driven by Chester and that Chester was using the vehicle with their permission. The complaint also alleges that Hanks and Wilson were negligent in allowing Chester to drive their car, but the specifics of their negligence are not described.

The California Vehicle Code states that the owner of a motor vehicle is liable and responsible for death or injury to persons or property caused by the negligence of a person using the vehicle "with the permission, express or implied, of the owner." If the driver of the loaned vehicle is neither an employee nor an agent of the owner, damages under this section are limited to $15,000 per person. The allegation against Hanks and Wilson stating that they were negligent in allowing Chester to operate the car is intended to circumvent this limitation by claiming that they knew Chester was unable to safely operate the vehicle and that they should not have allowed him to use the car.

Anyone who has been injured or lost a loved one in a car accident involving a loaned vehicle may wish to consult a lawyer who specializes in such cases for an evaluation of the case, an analysis of the applicability and effect of the loaned vehicle statute and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages for medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.

Source: UPI.com, "Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson named in lawsuit over son Chet's car accident," Wade Sheridan, March 30, 2016

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