Runaway Vehicle Accidents: Who Is Liable for Damages?
Last October, an unoccupied dump truck in Los Angeles, California rolled down a hill and hit a bus that was headed west on Hollywood Boulevard. The bus was pushed into the eastbound lane where it crashed head-on into a BMW. The incident injured the driver of the BMW, as well as her daughter, the bus driver and 14 passengers.
“This incident is not the first or only time someone has been injured as a result of a parked or unattended vehicle,” explained California car accident attorney James Ballidis, “and victims of such accidents have recourse through the civil justice system.”
According to California's Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System, there were at least five fatalities in 2010 that resulted from parked or unoccupied vehicles. These numbers may not reflect the full extent of the number of accidents either, since police departments throughout California report these types of incidents in different ways.
Who is Responsible?
When a parked vehicle rolls into traffic, liability for the incident may lie with the driver in some circumstances. For example, if a driver leaves a vehicle running and fails to engage the parking break, this could be considered negligence and could create a situation where the driver is responsible. All drivers have an obligation to exercise reasonable care when driving and this obligation also extends to properly securing the vehicle when parking.
In the case of the dump truck accident or in other situations where a person is driving a work truck and fails to park it properly, then liability can extend beyond just the driver. In these cases, the driver performing work tasks can be seen as an “agent” of his or her employer. This means that the employer can be considered vicariously liable for the actions of the worker. If the employer is a local government, however, then things become more complicated as a result of limited governmental immunity protections.
Finally, it is also possible that the rollaway accident may be caused not by the driver but instead by some defect in the vehicle. In April of this year, for example, The Wall Street Journal reported that BMW recalled 2002 to 2008 7-series cars because the vehicles had begun rolling away after the driver had parked them. If a rollaway accident is caused by a problem with the car itself, rather than by something the driver did, then the car manufacturer or distributor can be held responsible. Because legal responsibility for vehicle defects is determined under product liability laws, injured victims harmed by a rollaway accident caused by a vehicle defect are not obligated to prove negligence. They simply must show that there was a problem with the vehicle when used as intended that caused it to roll away and cause injury.
In any case where a rollaway accident occurred, however, it is clear that something went wrong because cars aren’t supposed to just move on their own accord and crash into innocent victims. As such, normally the driver, the vehicle manufacturer or any other party who caused the car to roll away can be held legally responsible and made to pay damages to injured victims.
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