It should come as no surprise that in most DC auto accident cases, the case will be determined by a jury. But have you ever wondered how a jury knows what to do when it comes down to deliberations? The secret is that in every case that uses a jury — from motorcycle accidents to wrongful death trials — the judge issues a set of guidelines called the jury instruction. The jury instruction is intended to lay out various elements of the trial and courtroom, from how to appropriately move through proceedings, legal language, and various other aspects of a trial that the judge deems important.
Take a look at the below jury instruction from a DC auto accident case that was released to the jurors in a civil court.
Auto Owner’s Liability — Consent Conceded (D.C. Std. Civ. Jury Instr. No. 7-8)
The owner of a motor vehicle is liable for any negligence of the person driving that vehicle with the owner’s consent, whether the consent is expressed or implied. In this case, there is no question that the owner gave the driver consent to drive the vehicle. Therefore, if you find that driver was negligent in the operations of that motor vehicle, then you must also find that the owner is liable for that negligence as well.
What does it mean?
In order to best break down this DC auto accident jury instruction, the first thing we need to do is to figure out what the jury instruction is talking about. In this case, the instruction is outlining a legal rule jurors must consider in the case of a car accident where the driver involved did not own their vehicle. In other words, if the driver who caused the car crash was driving a friend’s car (with consent, we’ll to that later) then the friend who lent the car is also liable for whatever damages may arise as a result of the collision.
It is not uncommon in DC auto accident cases for one the drivers involved to be operating a vehicle that they do not own. That means, as a juror, it is important to remember that the owner may also be at fault for the collision.
In what scenarios is the car owner at fault for the driver’s actions?
The big takeaway from this jury instruction is that the car owner is only liable for the driver’s actions if the owner actively gave consent; this can also be implied consent. For example, say you are a juror on a car crash case where a driver sped into another car on a freeway, causing the two cars to be totaled. Now say that this speeding driver did not own their car and, in fact, was borrowing a friends for the weekend. This friend, if he or she verbally agreed to let their friend borrow their car, would be responsible in the DC auto accident case for the damages that may have arisen to the other driver or vehicle — typically injuries.
Let’s look at another car accident scenario. Let’s say a young high school student who just received their license wanted to drive their father’s car. When they expressed interest, their father handed them the keys, without saying anything. In this scenario, even though the father did not actively say “yes, you may drive my vehicle,” he implied consent by handing his child the keys to his car. If his child then proceeded to cause an accident, and potential damage to other drivers, then the father is also responsible for the collision. In DC auto accident cases, it’s important as a juror to remember that even if the owner of the vehicle was not anticipating a collision, it is still responsibility to help provide compensation for whatever damages arise, assuming the court finds the person driving their vehicle guilty.
However, there are certainly plenty of scenarios in which a car owner will not be liable for a collision that was caused with their vehicle by another driver. For example, if somebody steals a vehicle from somebody else and causes an accident, the stolen car owner will not be liable for the damages that arise.
What’s the big takeaway?
As a vehicle owner, it is important to remember not to lend your car to anyone because you run the risk of having to deal with the damages of an accident that you did not directly cause. As a juror, it’s important to remember that in any DC auto accident case, the owner of the vehicle can also be held liable for the damages another person driving their vehicle caused.
Please do not rely on any of the above statements as legal advice or expert opinion. You should always seek the advice of a licensed lawyer or legal professional in order to assist you.