In most personal injury lawsuits involving car accidents, the defendant is a driver who owned the car he or she was driving at the time of the accident. If the driver acted negligently, caused an accident and caused injury to another person, the negligent driver can be held liable for the damages suffered by the injured person.
In some motor vehicle accident cases, the issue of liability is more complicated. The negligent driver may be held liable, but another party may be held liable as well. This is sometimes known as vicarious liability.
The concept comes up in many commercial vehicle accident cases, where the driver, the driver's employer and perhaps other parties may be held liable. The legal principle here is known as respondeat superior, which means "let the master answer." It's a very old principle under which employers can be held liable for accidents caused by their employees.
It also comes up in other cases where someone other than the registered owner was behind the wheel at the time of the accident. The specific wording of the parties' insurance policies will govern many aspects of these cases, but there are other legal issues as well. For instance, courts can follow the Family Car Doctrine to hold parents liable if a minor driving their car causes an accident, even if the minor is not listed on their insurance policy.
From the standpoint of the plaintiff, these legal concepts are important because they expand the options for recovering much-needed compensation. For example, imagine a case where a delivery driver negligently causes an accident in which a bicyclist is badly injured. The bicyclist can hold the driver liable, but this particular driver has insufficient insurance and very little money to pay for the bicyclist's damages. In such a case, it is very important for the bicyclist to be able to pursue a claim against the delivery driver's employer, who has the resources to compensate the bicyclist.
There are many issues involved in even relatively simple car accident cases. The injured and their families can talk to an experienced attorney about their legal options for pursuing compensation.