Liability for negligence is personal; meaning the person who actually caused the damage is responsible. In car accidents, the person responsible is usually the negligent driver. However there are instances when someone who is not the driver can be held liable. In such cases, the law imputes legal responsibility to persons, other than the driver, based on existing relationship or plain convenience.
Employers are generally responsible for the negligent acts of their employees while in the performance of their tasks or duties. This applies to the negligent driving of an employee. The basis for this is the fact that the employer has supervision and control over the acts of his employees. When an employee acts negligently, the law presumes that the employer failed to exercise proper diligence in the supervision of his employees. A simple illustration is when you are the proprietor of a delivery service and your driver runs a red light and collides with another vehicle while driving the service truck on the way to deliver a package. Your driver's negligence will be imputed to you and you will be liable for the damages.
Another instance where you can be held liable for the act of another is if you allow someone else to use your car. Many states have laws that impute primary liability to the registered owner of the vehicle even if he is not the actual driver at the time of the accident. This is based on public policy, which seeks to protect victims of accidents. By holding the owner liable, the victims need not search for the actual driver. This makes the process of claiming damages easier. This also prevents scrupulous vehicle owners from evading liability by disposing their cars.
Parents can also be held liable for the acts of their minor children. When parents let their minor children drive the family car, they are presumed negligent by law and hence liable for the damages. This is based on the authority exercised by parents over their children. The law directs parents to be vigilant in monitoring the conduct of their children so that they will not cause harm to others. Moreover, the law recognizes the fact that minors do not have sufficient property to pay for whatever liability they incur. Hence, parents are made to pay for such obligations.
Similarly, a person who lends his car to an incompetent or reckless driver can be held liable for the latter's acts. This is the doctrine of negligent entrustment. This principle imputes liability to the lender, who despite knowledge of the borrower driver's lack of skill or prudence still authorizes the latter to use his vehicle. The lender is penalized for his lack of foresight. He/She should not have given access to his/her car when he/she could have reasonably anticipated that it will cause harm to others.
Also, in an auto accident, the owner is jointly liable with his driver, if the former, who was in the vehicle, could have, by the use of due diligence, prevented the misfortune. An example would be when an owner who is in the vehicle sees that his driver is driving recklessly fails to reprimand him or tell him to drive more carefully.
Therefore, if you have lent your car to a relative and that relative is involved in an auto accident or if you failed to prevent your cousin from driving recklessly even-though you knew they were, you can be held liable for the accident.