After selling a vehicle, if the new owner gets into an accident and has never re-registered the car, can the original owner be sued?

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After selling a vehicle, if the new owner gets into an accident and has never re-registered the car, can the original owner be sued?

My wife, girlfriend at the time sold her car a few years back. Both seller and buyer signed the transfer of title and ownership. Apparently, the buyer never bothered to register the car under their name at the DMV. So they get into an accident with no insurance and no drivers license. Now the other party of the accident is trying to sue us, and hold us liable for this accident which took place years ago for which we did not know about. How is this even lawful and why does their lawyer calling us harassing us about this? Shouldn’t they pursue the individual involved in the accident?

Asked on September 9, 2010 under Accident Law, California

Answers:

MD, Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Unfortunately, when a person fails to register the car even through a lawful sale, it can create a whole host of problems both for the individual who sold the vehicle and the buyer who failed to register the vehicle.  In addition to possible fraud violations both for insurance purposes (especially where in California insurance is required) and for any accident matters.  Here, your wife was properly sued (because she is the legal title holder) but she now needs to counter sue the buyer or file a motion in court to be dismissed as a respondent because she no longer technically owned the vehicle and did not have control of the car. This is where having a copy of the title signed by both parties would be quite helpful.


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