The scenario is all too familiar: two or more vehicles coming down a road, a crash, and then silence. As ambulance and police officers attend to the scene, people are already putting together their own conclusions as to who was responsible for the accident. But did you know that you could be charged for a car accident even though you were NOT behind the wheel at that time? Surprising, yes – but there are multiple cases when such situations actually happened.
Proving Fault and Vehicular Accidents
In personal injury cases involving car crashes, the premise seems simple enough: the driver proven at fault will be charged with the appropriate penalties. Depending on the nature of the accident, an individual may be accused of wrongful death, homicide, or even murder. But what if you were NOT driving when the incident occurred? Could you still be charged? The answer is YES.
A good example would be the odd case of Raquel Nelson from Georgia. In 2010, Nelson and her three children got off a bus in Marietta lane, ready to go home and end the day. According to reports, instead of leading her kids to a proper crosswalk, she led them to a median. When her daughter dashed across the street, her son A.J. tried to follow but was struck by van driver, Jerry Guy, who had been drinking ‘a little bit’ that night. A.J. died immediately.
Nelson was charged with second degree vehicular homicide, while Guy pleaded guilty to hit-and-run charges.
After much investigation, the court came to this decision because Nelson’s actions had placed her children in jeopardy. This, along with a pedestrian crossing violation, put her under the spotlight during her litigation. This did not go down well with citizens as numerous people rallied and even setup petitions in favor of Nelson.
The outcome of her case aside, this is just one example when a non-driver could be charged for something he or she did NOT mean to do. Other common scenarios include:
- Lending your car to someone drunk
- Letting your kids drive your car
- Lending your vehicle to someone who is unfit to drive (i.e. persons of advanced age, individuals with reckless driving records, and so on)
Some states even have rules about ‘family purpose doctrine’ that says if a car is bought for the function of being used by ALL the members of the family, the owner will be liable for any accidents caused by any member using that vehicle.
Avoiding Non-Driver Charges
Nelson’s case was definitely rare, and hopefully, would not happen to anyone else. However, it does impose to us that just because we were not aware of the law means we would be excused. But how could we protect ourselves from being charged of something we were not even involved in? For one, use your better judgment BEFORE letting someone borrow your vehicle.
Be careful when lending your car to minors (with licenses), folks of advanced age, intoxicated and/or inexperienced drivers. It’s natural for people to commit mistakes – but you don’t want to be caught in a legal situation in which you had nothing to do with. Remember: their offenses would come back to YOU because you are still the owner of the vehicle. In case of a collision or even minor accidents (like running red lights), you may be charged with negligent entrustment for letting an unfit individual get behind the wheel.
If you or someone you know is facing non-driver charges for a car accident, do contact an experienced lawyer immediately.