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Permissive Use Liability in Automobile Accidents


Permissive use liability is a form of imputed or vicarious liability created under the California Vehicle Code (Section 17150). This statute is one of several legal theories that hold the owner of a motor vehicle (often, but not limited to, an automobile) legally responsible for injuries caused by people using the car with the owner’s consent.

In simpler terms: if you loan your car (or other vehicle) to someone else, and that person operates the vehicle in a negligent or intentionally wrongful manner, you may also be responsible for any injuries or damages that result. The liability applies both to property damage and to personal injury situations.

Permissive use liability operates in addition to the liability business owners may have for damages caused by employees who drive as part of their working duties. (That type of liability, known as respondeat superior, creates potential liability for business owners whose employees cause injuries or damages while acting within the course and scope of employment.)


Federal law creates an exception to permissive use liability for people or companies that rent or lease vehicles as a business. This means that although private individuals who loan (or even rent) a vehicle to someone else may be held liable–in proper circumstances–for wrongdoing on the part of the person to whom they loaned the vehicle, a rental company does not generally have similar concerns. If the auto rental company engages in criminal acts or negligence with regard to their business operations and/or the manner in which they rent their vehicles, however, then the rental company may be held liable for its own wrongdoing.

Permissive use liability is only one of several theories under which the owner of a vehicle may be legally liable for injuries or damages resulting from use of the vehicle by another. If you want to loan (or rent) a vehicle you own, consult an attorney to ensure that you take proper steps to protect yourself from unwanted liability.


Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses) are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your personal rights and claims.

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