Two people buy a car together. Maybe they are spouses, maybe parent and child. At some point the car is no longer in common use. Maybe a divorce occurred or a child moved out. Whatever the reason, good or bad, the person no longer associated with the vehicle should make sure to take care of the irritating little details and get his or her name off the title.
It is well known that if you own a car and lend it to someone, you are responsible should the person you lent it to hurt another in an accident. You made the decision to lend the car, so the law assigns you responsibility for what happens with your vehicle, no matter who drives it.
But what does it mean to own the car? What if, in practice, it’s really not yours? What if ownership is a bit of a “technicality,” nothing more than your name on the title? As our readers will have guessed, it makes no difference. A joint title holder has the right to exercise control over the vehicle. That is enough to hold all joint title holders responsible, regardless of whether or not they exercised those rights.
Scott Turow, the author and attorney, once said he decided to attend law school when he realized the extent to which so many acts in life had legal consequences – renting a car, booking a hotel room, etc. The decision to shrug off one’s name remaining on an automobile’s title carries legal consequences of its own.
And if even small, personal choices are heavy with legal significance, no-one will be surprised that for companies with employees on the road, the situation is even more complex. The employer’s vicarious liability in case of accident depends on a multitude of factors. The company’s first line of legal defense should take the form of carefully crafted policies taking this complexity into account.