Can you sue a third-party for losing a vehicle?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can you sue a third-party for losing a vehicle?

We rented out our trailer to rent out to other parties. The rented it out to one

person but they never signed the agreement form. When it was returned back to the

company the next day they reported it stolen and neither parties want to be held

liable. How do I go about suing someone for the loss of my trailer?

Asked on November 14, 2018 under Accident Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

You can only sue based on "negligence" or unreasonable carelessnss if there is evidence of carelesness, such as that the trailer was left unlocked and unattended in a dangerous location, and that's why it was stolen; without some evidence of carelessness, you cannot sue on that basis.
Similarly, you can only sue for theft (for intentionally stealing it or helping another steal it) if you have evidence of that. 
Therefore, you may have difficulty suing the person in whose possession the trailer was, without some evidence that they either carelessly or intentionally caused its loss. And for the same reason, you may have difficulty suing the person to whom you rented it unless there is evidence of their carelessness or intentional wrongdoing. The problem you have is that person A is not normally liable for the criminal act of person B unless person A deliberately assisted or helped them commit the crime, or A's carelessness caused or allowed the crime to happen. So if they are alleging that someone else stole it, if that were true, they would not be liable--and to show it's not true, you need evidence.
If the person to whom you rented it violated any terms of the rental agreement you had with them (if you had a signed agreement with them), then you may be able to sue them for breaching that agreement. Or if the agreement stated that they are responsible for any damage or loss of the trailer, you could enforce that against them to make them pay. So you ability to sue will come down to whether you have a written contract with someone and, if so, what rights does it give you.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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