This week, our criminal lawyers talk an aggravated brother down from the ledge when his sibling drives irresponsibly in a car that’s still registered at a different address.
The Question: If someone gets into a wreck and has a DUI, but is driving a car registered to someone else’s address, then is that other person civilly or criminally responsible for the driver’s conduct?
Brother lives out of state but has car insured and registered at our address.
We live in NJ, brother is now in Maryland. He lived with us for a while after separating from his wife (she stayed a lot longer than she should have, we have no hard feelings towards her). He’s late forties but definitely nowhere near that mature. He hasn’t lived with us for 2-3 years now. He was kicked out of our house about a year and a half after he moved in, after 5 failed attempts at rehab. (He also had more rehab trips than I can count BEFORE he moved in with us.) He is an alcoholic and while we try to support and encourage him, he is an addict who does not want help. We tried everything we could to but a week after getting out a rehab he’d already be coming home drunk from his “AA Meetings.” (Not knocking the program, I just mean we all know he was at a bar instead.)
There have been a slew of other problems with him but the main one related to the car would be the alcoholism, especially because he has had multiple DUIs in the past. Even had a breathalyzer to start the car at one point and lost his license at another (he continued driving drunk through both of these periods). The car as far as I know was bought and registered in only his name.
However, 1) his license still has our address listed, 2) the car is registered to our address, and 3) the car insurance also shows that he lives at our address. He doesn’t have any other mail that comes here besides when he gets notices for court appearances, speeding tickets, and ez pass violation notices.
Just wondering if he were to get into an accident, would the victim be able to come after our parents/their house/their assets? Or does it go by who actually owns the car.
The Answer: We’re 99% sure that you’re not criminally or civilly responsible actions of your DUI-driving brother, but still check with an attorney to be certain.
First of all, we hope your brother has finally turned the corner with his alcoholism treatment between when you posted this question and now. Alcoholism is a devastating disease, and too many families have been ripped apart by its effects.
That said, we also hope you don’t feel guilty for having to distance yourself from him. After all, you shouldn’t set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.
Now, take a deep breath — you’re most likely fine. Liability goes by who actually owns the car.
It’s your brother’s fault that the address is still incorrect on his driver’s license and vehicle-related communications. You will probably not be held liable for any of his errors.
Pretend you were a landlord to some equally irresponsible drivers. The drivers moved out, forgot to update their address from the property that you own, and continued getting into trouble with the MVA.
Would the landlord be responsible for their actions, just because they own the address listed?
No, generally not — and your situation is very similar.
Of course, if you want to be absolutely certain, then we recommend consulting with an attorney near you with more details of your question. They would be in the best position to tell whether or not you’d be at risk for any sort of liability or criminal charges based on your brother’s mistake.
Now, the situation might be different if you were the actual owner of the car, or were a co-signer on the auto loan.
In that case, hypothetically, victims of your brother’s drunk driving — or rather, the victims’ insurance companies — might be able to try to seek civil damages from you, even if you weren’t driving.
They could possibly argue that you, as an owner or co-signer of the vehicle in question, were negligent in facilitating your brother’s driving abilities, knowing his DUI history.
Therefore, the insurance companies can allege that you would be partially responsible for the accident that followed, and thus also at least partially responsible in making the victim (and their insurance company) whole again.
Jumping back to your question: You don’t have any legal ownership over or claim to your brother’s car. Therefore, there’s no real path forward for the insurance companies if they want to try pursuing you for damages.
That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t try, though. So, if you ever get a legal communication stemming from your brother’s misconduct, then we recommend “lawyering up” to make quick work of such a crazy claim.
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Our automatic disclaimer: We’re lawyers, but not necessarily your lawyer, and do not represent the individual who asked this question. We’re providing this information for general educational purposes based on the publicly available information provided by the anonymous Internet user. Any number of details may change how this individual’s attorney may pursue this legal situation, differently from how we suppose above. If you have a similar question, then you should consult with a lawyer about your specific situation to get a “real” response!