To what degree can I be held responsible for the actions of someone else driving a car that was registered in my name?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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To what degree can I be held responsible for the actions of someone else driving a car that was registered in my name?

I recently registered a car in my name along with a friend. He took out the

financing and handled the payments; I handled the registration with the

understanding being that we would share access to it. I didn’t ask many

questions at the time because I was sinmply happy to be getting access to a

nice vehicle for a change. I later discovered that he had no valid driver’s

license he was ticketed while driving the vehicle. After getting the vehicle

out of impound, I repeatedly told him that he should not drive the car until he

had his license taken care of. A few days later, I found out the he had be a

part of a hit and run, leaving a pedestrian hospitalized. I learned this when

a group of police officers came to my house searching for me the registered

owner to surrender the vehicle and turn in my friend. I had no idea he had

even taken the vehicle as I was away from home for the past couple days, however now I’m being accused of lying, obstructing justice because I don’t know where the car or my friend are, nor have I been able to reach him and threatened with being held responsible for possible civil actions and potentially even vehicular homicide if the victim should pass away. The police said it’s

completely unreasonable that I wouldn’t know he didn’t have a license when we purchased the car, and that there’s no way I couldn’t know that the car was

gone/he took it, either of which make me guilty and liable. Naturally, when I

mentioned a lawyer the threats became even worse with much more dire

consequences. I just want to know how much of this is just police using scare

tactics because they think I am trying to hide something from them and to what

degree it is actually true and I may be liable despite having no knowledge

prior to this and several witnesses that have heard me tell my friend not to

drive it with no license.

Asked on July 20, 2018 under Criminal Law, Ohio


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Legally, IF you did not know he had no license and are now not helping him and the car hide, you are not criminally liable (i.e. no vehicular homicide); you are not criminally responsible for another person's, even a co-owner's, criminal acts unless you yourself did something wrong. You could be held civilly liable, however--that is, sued for any medical bills, injuries, etc. he caused. A car owner is economically or civilly responsible for the actiions of others, including co-owners, whom that person lets drive the car.
But it is not very plausible-seeming that you would not know that a person you bought a car with had no license, or that you would not know where a valuable asset (the car) is, or the location of a friend whom you are close eougth to that you bought a car with him (and have no way of contacting him). You may as a practical matter be unable to convince the police or, if charges are brought, a judge and jury, that you did not know that he could not legally drive or have no idea where he and the car are now.

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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