In Illinois and most other states when an automobile owner permits another person drive their car then the driver’s negligence can be assigned to the vehicle’s owner.
For example, consider a Missouri case of Sam and his aunt Sandra [Back v. Winfield-Fire Protection Dist., No. SC 89001 (Mo. banc 2008)]. Sandra owns an automobile, but does not have a driving license, whereas her nephew, Sam, does. So when Sandra needs to go to a meeting she recruits Sam to drive her. On the way to her meeting Sam rear ended a fire truck that was partially parked in his lane with its emergency lights on.
As a result of the crash, his aunt was injured, and consequently sued her nephew and the fire protection district for negligence. Her nephew was dismissed after settling out of court with his aunt for $25,000. The case against the fire department continued on to trial, where the jury awarded $100,000 for her suffering. But because the jury found her to be 50% at fault in the accident, with the district also being 50% at fault, her damages were reduced by half.
The aunt appealed the reduction of her award by arguing that the trial court should not have instructed the jury that she could be held at fault because her nephew was negligent when he failed to keep a proper lookout. She felt that because she was a passenger she did not have a right to control it even though she owned the car.
However, in a fiduciary relationship agency is defined as resulting from an agent’s consent to act on a principal’s behalf and be under their control. Monetary transactions are not necessarily required in order to establish an agency relationship. The court felt it applied in the case of Sandra and her nephew even though he was simply doing a free favor for his aunt. That neither Sandra or Sam intended to create a legal relationship does not negate that one exists.
Once the agency relationship is established, the principal, in this case Sandra, is responsible for the agent’s actions for the period of time that the agent is acting with actual authority. So when a person drives a car while the owner is a passenger, there is the assumption that the driver is the agent of the owner.
At the time of the accident, Sam was driving Sandra to a meeting as he had been expressly authorized and directed to do by Sandra. In spite of Sandra’s inability to drive and her lack of a license, she still has the right to control the vehicle for this trip. .
So again, even though Sandra and Sam may not have intended to create a principal/agent relationship, one did in fact exist. By driving Sandra to her meeting, Sam was acting under her wishes. Under the laws of agency, Aunt Sandra as principal did not need to control or direct every movement of her agent, Sam, in order to be liable for his negligence.
Therefore, even though the aunt was blameless for her nephew’s negligence, that is, driving into the rear end of a parked vehicle, she would be limited in her right to recover against another party because of the connection of the agency that she created.
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