Car Motorcycle Truck Owner’s Liability for Accident Law

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] was harmed and that [name of defendant] is responsible for the harm because [name of defendant] gave [name of driver] permission to operate the vehicle. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

  1. That [name of driver] was negligent in operating the vehicle;
  2. That [name of defendant] was an owner of the vehicle at the time of the injury to [name of plaintiff]; and
  3. That [name of defendant], by words or conduct, gave permission to [name of driver] to use the vehicle.

In determining whether permission was given, you may consider the relationship between the owner and the operator. [For example, if the parties are related or the owner and the operator are employer and employee, such a relationship may support a finding that there was implied permission to use the vehicle.]

[If the vehicle owner has given a person permission to use the vehicle, and that person authorizes a third person to operate the vehicle, the third person may be considered to have used the vehicle with the permission of the owner.]

  • Permissive Use. Vehicle Code section 17150.

  • Cal. Veh. Code § 17150 provides every owner of a motor vehicle is liable and responsible for death or injury to person or property resulting from a negligent act in the operation of the motor vehicle by any person using or operating the same with the permission of the owner. Liability arises solely from the owner’s status as owner of the vehicle, not from any independent fault or wrongdoing on the owner’s part. The foundation of an owner’s liability under § 17150 is the permission, express or implied, given by the owner to another to use the motor vehicle.   Galvis v. Petito, 13 Cal. App. 4th 551.
  • Permissive Use: Limitation on Liability. Vehicle Code section 17151(a).

  • The statutory limitation under section 17151(a) “does not apply . . . to a vehicle owner’s own common law negligence, as distinguished from the owner’s statutory vicarious liability for the operator’s negligence.” (Fremont Compensation Insurance Co. v. Hartnett (1993) 19 Cal.App.4th 669, 675-676 [23 Cal.Rptr.2d 567].)

  • “[U]nless the evidence points to one conclusion only, the question of the existence of the requisite permission under [section 17150] is one to be determined by the trier of fact, ‘upon the facts and circumstances in evidence and the inferences reasonably to be drawn therefrom.’ ” (Peterson v. Grieger, Inc. (1961) 57 Cal.2d 43, 51 [17 Cal.Rptr. 828, 367 P.2d 420], internal citations omitted.)
  • “[P]ermission cannot be left to speculation or conjecture nor be assumed, but must be affirmatively proved, and the fact of permission is just as important to sustain the imposition of liability as is the fact of ownership.” (Scheff v. Roberts (1950) 35 Cal.2d 10, 12 [215 P.2d 925], internal citations omitted.)

  • “Where the issue of implied permissive use is involved, the general relationship existing between the owner and the operator, is of paramount importance. Where, for example, the parties are related by blood, or marriage, or where the relationship between the owner and the operator is that of principal and agent, weaker direct evidence will support a finding of such use than where the parties are only acquaintances or strangers.” (Elkinton v. California State Automobile Assn., Interstate Insurance Bureau (1959) 173 Cal.App.2d 338, 344 [343 P.2d 396], internal citations omitted.)

  • “There is no doubt that the word ‘owner’ as used in [the predecessor to Vehicle Code section 17150] for the purpose of creating a liability thereunder, is not synonymous with that word as used in the ordinary sense of referring to a person or persons whose title is good as against all others. Under the Vehicle Code there may be several such ‘owners’ at any one time. One or more persons may be an ‘owner,’ and thus liable for the injuries of a third party, even though no such ‘owner’ possesses all of the normal incidents of ownership.” (Stoddart v. Peirce (1959) 53 Cal.2d 105, 115 [346 P.2d 774], internal citation omitted.)

  • “The question whether the [defendant] was an owner for purposes of imposition of liability for negligence [under Vehicle Code section 17150] was one of fact.” (Campbell v. Security Pacific Nat. Bank (1976) 62 Cal.App.3d 379, 385 [133 Cal.Rptr. 77].)

  • “Strict compliance with Vehicle Code section 5602 [regarding the sale or transfer of a vehicle] is required to enable a transferring owner to escape the liability imposed by section 17150 on account of an accident occurring before notice of the transfer is received by the Motor Vehicle Department.” (Laureano v. Christensen (1971) 18 Cal.App.3d 515, 520-521 [95 Cal.Rptr. 872].)

  • “[T]he true and actual owner of an automobile [is not] relieved from liability by the expedient of registration in the name of another………………………………………………….. It is clear that it was the legislative intent to make the actual owners of automobiles liable for the negligence of those to whom permission is given to drive them. According to the allegations of the complaint defendants . . . were in fact the true owners of the car and had control of it, the registration being in the name of defendant [driver] for the purpose of avoiding liability.” (McCalla v. Grosse (1941) 42 Cal.App.2d 546, 549-550 [109 P.2d 358].)

  • “[I]t is a question of fact in cases of co-ownership, as it is in cases of single ownership, whether the operation of an automobile is with or without the consent, express or implied, of an owner who is not personally participating in such operation. The mere fact of co-ownership does not necessarily or
  • The liability of an owner under Cal. Veh. Code § 17150 is independent from the ability or inability of the owner to obtain indemnity from the negligent operator of the vehicle or the operator’s employer. Thus, the immunity of the negligent operator under the Worker’s Compensation Act does not insulate the owner from liability under the Vehicle Code. Meanwhile, Cal. Lab. Code § 3864 and Cal. Lab. Code § 3601 bars the owner’s right of subrogation or indemnity against the operator where the latter is the employer or co-employee of the injured party. Galvis v. Petito, 13 Cal. App. 4th 551.

  • In an action by three passengers who were injured in a vehicle driven by their co-employee, against the vehicle owner under Veh. Code, § 17150 (vehicle owner’s liability for permissive user’s negligence), the trial court erred in granting summary judgment for defendant on the ground that the driver’s immunity from liability to his co-employees pursuant to Lab. Code, § 3601 et seq. (workers’ compensation as exclusive remedy), extended to defendant. A vehicle owner’s inability to invoke a permissive user’s workers’ compensation immunity when the owner is neither the employer nor a co-employee of the injured party was not altered by a 1967 amendment to Veh. Code, § 17150, which deleted language stating that the driver’s negligence shall be imputed to the owner for all purposes, since that amendment was intended simply to prevent imputation of the driver’s contributory negligence so as to bar the owner from recovering from a negligent third party. Moreover, the rule preventing immunity under such circumstances has remained in effect even though Lab. Code, §§ 3601, 3864, now prevent the owner from obtaining indemnity against a negligent driver who is the employer or co-employee of the injured party. Galvis v. Petito, 13 Cal. App. 4th 551

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