Massachusetts Court Discusses Jurisdiction Over Car Owners in Personal Injury Cases

It is not uncommon for people to allow other individuals to drive their cars. For example, people typically allow their spouses to operate their vehicles. If the spouse then causes an accident, the spouse and the owner could potentially be deemed liable for any harm that ensues. As shown in a recent Massachusetts ruling, though, a court must be able to exercise jurisdiction over both parties in order for it to preside over a case in a matter arising out of a car accident. If you were injured in a collision, multiple parties might be responsible for your harm, and it is prudent to speak with a dedicated Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding your possible claims.

The Plaintiff’s Accident

It is reported that the plaintiff and his wife were residents of Massachusetts. The defendants are a married couple who live in Virginia. In September 2018, the defendants were in Massachusetts for the wedding of a family friend. The defendant husband was outside of the hotel with friends waiting for his wife to pick him up. The defendant wife, operating the defendant husband’s car, struck the plaintiff who was operating a motorcycle. He suffered severe and debilitating injuries, after which he filed a lawsuit against the defendants. The defendant husband moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims against him for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Jurisdiction Over a Vehicle Owner from Another State

Under Massachusetts’s long-arm statute, a court can exercise jurisdiction over a person who, either directly or through an agent, causes a tortious injury via an omission or act. The plaintiff argued that the defendant wife was acting as the defendant husband’s agent at the time of the accident. The court found, though, that there was no evidence that would demonstrate agency.

The court explained that agency requires a manifestation of consent in which one person allows another to act on his behalf and under his control. While one spouse can act as the agent of the other, the mere fact that two people are married is not adequate to show that a person is an agent of his or her spouse. In the subject case, the Complaint was devoid of any allegations that would show agency and merely relied on conclusory statements. The wife was not conducting business for her husband but was merely picking him up in his car, which was inadequate to demonstrate agency.

The court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that a Massachusetts statute imposing legal responsibility on a person who owns a car for any person driving the car provided a sufficient basis for the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the owner, noting the plaintiff failed to cite any case that would support this assertion. Thus, the court found that the plaintiff had not demonstrated personal jurisdiction over the defendant husband was proper.

Meet with a Trusted Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

People who allow unsafe drivers to operate their vehicles can often be held accountable for any accidents that subsequently occur. If you were injured in a crash, trusted personal injury attorney James K. Meehan can advise you of your rights and help you to pursue the full amount of damages recoverable under the law. Attorney Meehan can be reached via the form online or at 508-822-6600 to schedule a conference.