Who Is Responsible For Damages In Accident Involving Borrowed Car And Inadequate Maintenance?

driving_camera_in_mirror-scaledIt is common to borrow a car from a family member or friend. If you are unfortunately involved in an accident while driving a borrowed car, who is liable for damages if the accident results from inadequate maintenance? 

While Holly Fontenot was driving a car owned by Patricia Neil and her husband, the parents of Fontenot’s fiancé, she was involved in a single-car accident when she lost control and hit a utility pole. Fontenot had the Neils’ permission to drive their car. There were also two minors in the car with her. 

Fontenot and the mother of the two minor children passengers filed a lawsuit against Safeway Insurance, who insured the Neils’ car. Fontenot claimed the accident occurred because of a lack of maintenance. She claimed the car went off the road because it had a broken tie road, which caused the car’s steering mechanism to fail. 

Safeway moved for a directed verdict under La. C.C.P. art 1672(B), claiming Fontenot had not presented evidence sufficient to show she was entitled to any relief. The court granted Safeway’s motion and dismissed Fontenot’s claims. Fontenot appealed.

The appellate court explained the trial court had granted Safeway’s motion for a directed verdict because Fontenot had not established what caused the car to go off the road and had not provided sufficient evidence there had been insufficient maintenance on the vehicle. Under King v. Louviere, the vehicle’s owner, not a driver who has been given permission to drive the car, is liable when an accident occurs because of a defect with the vehicle. 

Fontenot testified she had been driving the Neils’ car with permission, within the speed limit, when she heard a pop and the car’s steering mechanism failed, which resulted in her losing control and hitting a utility pole. Fontenot could not provide specific details about the timeline of what happened after she heard the pop. One of the investigating police officers testified it appeared to him like the crash resulted from something in the front area of the car’s drive train. The police officer did not think the accident could have resulted from a tire blowout.

Furthermore, there was no evidence Fontenot was speeding or otherwise driving erratically at the time of the accident. Based on this testimony and evidence, the appellate court held Fontenot had provided sufficient evidence to survive Safeway’s motion for a directed verdict. 

Once Fontenot presented evidence that she had lost control of the car because of a broken tie rod, the burden shifted to the Neils to provide evidence the accident resulted from a defect it was not aware of and did not result from their improper maintenance of the vehicle. The only evidence they presented was speculated the tie rod might have broken when the car hit the utility pole or curb. The Neils also did not present evidence Fontenot had been given the right or obligation to maintain the vehicle. Therefore, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of Fontenot’s claims. 

If you have been involved in an accident while driving a borrowed car, a good attorney can advise you on who is liable and what evidence you need to present in support of your claim. 

Additional Sources: Holly Fontenot et al. v. Safeway Ins. Co. of Louisiana

Article Written By Berniard Law Firm

Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Involuntary Dismissals: The Complexities of the Involuntary Dismissal of a Claim

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