Should Commonwealth Dodge be Held Liable for the Deaths of Two People Killed in Test Drive Crash?

08/23/2009 | Auto, Semi & Motorcycle Wrecks

Tragedy happened today in Louisville, Kentucky when a Dodge Challenger on a test drive from Commonwealth Dodge was involved in a fatal crash with a Mercury Sable.  The two occupants of the Sable were both killed and the driver of the Challenger was arrested.  According to some news reports, the Challenger may have been driven at a high rate of speed. Wave 3 news reports witness Rick Lee said, "I heard the car racing down through here and of course, they race down through here all the time, and it kind of got mine and my son's attention. When we got up to try to see the aftermath of what was going down the road, we heard an impact." 

According to the Courier Journal, a Commonwealth employee was a passenger on the test drive.

This leads to the obvious question.  Can Commonwealth be held liable for the two deaths.  I see two potential ways the dealership can be held liable.  First, liability insurance follows the vehicle.  This means that the owner of the dealership must provide liability insurance for every vehicle on its lot. So, even though a Commonwealth employee wasn't driving, the dealer's auto insurance will still have to provide coverage.  

The second cause of action against Commonwealth Dodge could be filed based on the conduct of its employee that was on the test drive IF it can be proven that the salesperson allowed the driver to speed or drive in a reckless manner.  The dealership would be liable under the theory of respondeat superior, a legal term that means the employer is liable for the actions of its employees.  Here, the dealer's Commercial General Liability (CGL) policy would provide coverage.

Here, it will be important to obtain as many witness interviews as possible as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, memories fade and stories change the farther away in time interviews are conducted.  

Hans

p.s. As a side note, this story was of particular interest to me because at age 18 I test drove, and wrecked, a Toyota MR2 while on a test drive.  Fortunately, no one was hurt.