The Third Degree

Before you lend your car to someone, read this ...

How many times have you lent your car to a friend, neighbor, or family member without thinking twice about the repercussions?

 Imagine getting a knock on your front door at 2 AM. It’s the police and they tell you that your car was involved in an accident and the driver left the scene. You tell the officer that you lent the car to a friend and that you have been home all night. The officer tells you that a witness gave your license plate number and your car matches their description. The officer then arrests you and takes you to the police station. You now have to go to court, hire an attorney and deal with the insurance company because you are responsible for the damage your car caused.

 This scenario may seem far fetched to many of you who have lent your vehicles to people you know, but with the recent State Appellate Court decision every time you hand over your keys you are opening yourself to not only insurance liability but criminal liability as well.

 In State v. Tine, the court held that the registered owner of a motor vehicle can be arrested for evasion of responsibility even if he was not the driver. The police investigated a hit and run accident and spoke to the owner of the evading vehicle, who told them it was a work vehicle and denied being the driver. The police had no witnesses and the only evidence was tire tracks leading from the job site to the accident scene. The owner presented witnesses who testified that he was not driving the vehicle on the day of the accident. The state relied on a statute that says the registered owner of a vehicle is the operator of that vehicle whenever there is a hit and run accident.

 Under these facts and circumstances the court decided that the owner was the operator of the vehicle. The court did not believe the owner or his witnesses’ testimony and relied on the other evidence to find the owner guilty.

 The next time someone asks to borrow your car, keep in mind that it could wind up costing you much more than an insurance deductible.


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Vox Populi December 05, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Why did not the owner indicate who the driver was since it was a work vehicle, unless he was the driver? However this begs a larger question. If I am asleep in my bed and my car is stolen, unbeknownst to me and is witnessed in a crime let's say as a getaway vehicle in an armed robbery that results in a death, under this interpretation I can be arrested for first degree murder? All before I wake up in the morning.....
Raymond J. Savoy, Esq. December 05, 2012 at 10:42 PM
Good question: The statute that the state relied on to establish that the owner was the driver at the time of the offense applies to only certain motor vehicle violations. In your hypothetical, this statute does not apply, and you could not be arrested solely on the basis that you were the owner of the vehicle.
Watts December 06, 2012 at 06:46 AM
Also, I have to wonder how often this really happens: "How many times have you lent your car to a friend, neighbor, or family member..." Raymond asks this question as if it is common. Maybe I am in the minority, but after 30 years of driving, I only lent my car out for the very first time in my life, a few weeks ago and that was to my gf because she needed to move some larger belongings that only my vehicle could fit. But it isn't as if other people had ever asked before in my life. In fact, she hadn't asked, either, but I just didn't have the time to do the drive to move only a few things. So is this a common scenarion that I just haven't been very exposed to? Do people lend out their cars all of the time and I never noticed?


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