If my brother used my trailer and it came off the hitch and damaged his car, am I legally responsible?

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If my brother used my trailer and it came off the hitch and damaged his car, am I legally responsible?

I had a trailer. My brother used it with his SUV. He hocked up the trailer to his SUV and was the one driving the car. He was also the one who picked out the hitch and put the hitch on his car. When he stopped the trailer came off and did minor cosmetic damage to the SUV. He now demands that I pay because it was my trailer. Am I legally responsible? He bought the wrong hitch; he should have bought the kind of hitch that makes the front end of the trailer lower. I told him that after the damage was done.

Asked on October 31, 2011 under Accident Law, New Mexico

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

You are only liable is you violated a duty of care, either through an intentional bad act or negligence (carelessness). In the first place, if you are not in the business of renting your trailer or asked your brother to tow the trailer for your benefit, it's not clear you owe a duty of care in this case (when he asks to borrow it for his own benefit)--or if you do, it's only the most minimal one, and would only be violated only by egregous bad conduct.

However, even leaving aside the extent of the duty, even if you were held to the same standard as say, a rental place which leases trailers commercially, you'd still only be liable if there was some defect in the trailer which caused it come loose, or if you had personally set it improperly for your brother, or at least had given him bad instructions or directions on how to set it up. If you did nothing wrong, and to the extent anyone did anything wrong, it was your brother, you would not be responsible. There mere fact that damage was done by property of yours, without there being some fault or wrongdoing, does not create liability or an obligation to pay.


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