Vicarious Accident Liability in the Joint Venture Doctrine

Vicarious Accident Liability in

A Colorado Court of Appeals case (2015COA129) involved a unique situation for assigning auto accident liability based on a doctrine of a joint venture. The Plaintiff, American Family Mutual, charges that Go Courtesy Ford (GCF) should be liable for injuries in a car accident. Kristin Hart visited GCF’s dealership considering a vehicle purchase. Hart and a salesperson went for a test drive, and the salesperson rode as the passenger and directed her route. Suddenly, Hart negligently turned and collided with a vehicle. The driver filed a claim with American Family, who paid it and then filed suit against GCF.

American Family claimed GCF was liable for the accident because the test drive formed a joint venture between GCF and Hart. GCF denied vicarious liability stating the two parties had opposite financial interests. The lower court entered a judgment for GCF. The appeal was exclusively to determine if this drive formed a joint venture. Common law explains joint venture doctrine makes both parties liable for one another. Determining joint venture associated with a test drive was unprecedented in Colorado.

Colorado Joint Ventures

The courts acknowledge two kinds of joint ventures: in business and in operating a vehicle. For the latter, two or more people must unite for a common purpose and each must have a right to control the vehicle. In Boyd v Close the Supreme Court employed the doctrine for two relatives returning from a dance. One individual drove there and the other was driving home when the accident happened. These two parties shared a vehicle and split the driving duties. The passenger whose family owned the vehicle was liable for actions of the driver. In another case, (Bainbrich CO App.) a couple was returning home from an event when an accident occurred. Here the court couldn’t declare it a joint venture because they could not find that the wife, a passenger, had any ability to exercise control of the vehicle.

Cases from Other States

Other cases found explained that a dealer isn’t liable for the negligent driving of a buyer during a test drive. Each of the cases discussed the right for both parties to exercise control of the vehicle. The dealer salesperson is an agent that is in the car and has some control. The court found Hart and GCF were engaged in a joint venture with a common purpose of completing a test drive. Both had common interests in determining the vehicle’s performance. During the drive, the salesperson had chosen their route and was directing the driver to make turns.

Contact a Colorado Personal Injury Attorney

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