In our last post, we began speaking about a recent court case that applied the so-called “joint venture” rule to cases involving auto accidents which occur during test drives through a dealership. In that case, as we noted, the accident occurred while a dealership employee was riding in the vehicle. The court ended up applying the joint venture rule because both occupants of the vehicle had the right to control the car and a “common interest in conducting the test drive.”
Joint venture liability, in general, refers to the fact that sometimes it makes sense to hold another party besides the driver liable for an accident that driver causes. One such scenario is when the driver and a passenger or passenger(s) are engaged in a commercial venture together. In such cases, courts consider that the passenger(s) and the driver had an equal right of control in the venture, and so are jointly responsible for any liabilities arising from the venture.
In applying the rule to dealerships in Colorado, the appellate court looked to out-of-state cases, which have largely held that unaccompanied drivers are solely responsible for injuries they cause when testing out a vehicle from a dealership prior to purchase and that dealers can be held liable for a prospective purchaser’s when they accompany such a driver.
In adopting this rule, the court gave car shoppers an incentive to take their test drives with a salesman in the car with them, while dealerships now have an incentive to allow prospective purchasers to be unaccompanied. Or, it at least gives dealerships the motivation to have prospective purchasers sign an agreement accepting full responsibility for accidents they cause during test drives. It isn’t clear what whether the case will trigger changes in practice. In any event, those who are injured by drivers testing out vehicles for a prospective purchase now have a greater possibility of recovering damages for injuries they incur in the crash.