Imagine this scenario. You are driving to the store for a late-night grocery run when another vehicle collides with yours, causing you to suffer significant injuries. When the police arrive, they discover that the other driver, who ran a red light, was not the actual owner of the car. Who can therefore be held liable for your injuries?

Section 388 of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law specifies that under the permissive use doctrine, the owner of a vehicle may be held responsible if they gave either express or implied permission for another person to drive the car and an accident subsequently occurred. Your personal injury attorney can therefore maximize your compensation by helping you sue both the owner and the driver.

Invoking the permissive use doctrine

To determine whether or not the permissive use doctrine applies in your case, your attorney must ascertain whether the driver had either express or implied permission to use the car when the accident took place. The following factors will have to be taken into account and properly investigated:

  • Is there evidence that the driver received express permission from the owner to take the car?
  • Had the owner ever given the driver express permission to use their vehicle?
  • Was the driver using the car for the benefit of the owner at the time the accident took place?
  • Is the driver named on the owner’s insurance policy?

Implied consent is different in that it may be more difficult to prove, but if there is a close relationship between the vehicle owner and driver or the latter had received express consent to use the car in the past, it may be possible to present a case. For example:

  • A parent knows their child is taking the car keys without permission but does nothing to stop that child
  • Someone tells their friends/family members not to use their car but still leaves the keys in a publicly accessible place

When the permissive use doctrine does not apply

There are circumstances in which the permissive use doctrine cannot be applied. If the driver who struck you had stolen the car, then the owner can try to rebut the presumption of permissive use, particularly if they reported the theft to the police as soon as they became aware of it.

When it comes to establishing liability for your car accident and resulting injuries, it is important to pinpoint whether or not the driver had the owner’s direct or indirect permission to use the car. An experienced New York personal injury attorney will know how to carry out an investigation, analyze the evidence, and use their conclusions to obtain the biggest possible recovery for you. Jayson Lutzky handles car and other motor vehicle accident cases in New York City. He has an office in the Bronx and offers free in-person consultations to victims of accidents and their families. To set up a consultation, call 718-514-6619 or visit