Many people think that once they sell their vehicles to another party they don't have to worry about those cars or trucks anymore, and most of the time they're right. Unfortunately, life is full of exceptions, and one of them is you could be held liable for an accident caused by a vehicle you previously owned if the new owner failed to transfer the title and registration into his or her name. Here's more information about this issue and what you can do to avoid getting pulled into an auto accident lawsuit.
Liability Remains with the Registered Owner
The problem is that if the police are called, they will pull the DMV records for the vehicle, particularly if the real liable party leaves the scene of the accident. They will provide that information to any victims and report the accident to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The victims' insurance companies may also obtain the information from the DMV independent of any action taken by police.
In the majority of states, the person's who name is on the vehicle registration can be held liable for damages caused by the car or truck, especially if the actual driver of the vehicle is uninsured, underinsured, or vanished. In California, for instance, you are only released from liability when the new owner submits the application to transfer ownership to the DMV. Until that happens in that state and others, you will be the one receiving an unwelcomed call or letter from an insurance company or personal injury attorney.
Reducing the Risk of Liability
The best thing you can do to avoid this problem is go to the DMV with the new owner and transfer the title and registration the same day you sell the car or truck. If that's not possible, then the second best thing you can do is notify the DMV the vehicle was sold.
The name of the form varies in different states. For example, it's called the Vehicle Resale Notification in Nevada. The notification may not officially release you from liability, but it can serve as evidence you sold the vehicle to another party, which may help you successfully defend against accusations of liability.
The other thing you can do is gather as much evidence of the sale as you can, such as:
- A copy of bill of sale or a written and signed receipt
- Emails or voicemails discussing the sale
- A copy of the check you received if the person paid that way
- The buyer's contact information
- Notarized statements from witnesses to the sale
With enough evidence, it may be possible to convince the insurance company or plaintiff that you're not the person they're looking for and to go after the real culprit.
For more information about handling this situation or assistance defending yourself in court, contact an attorney like Gregory J Hermiller.