Defendant’s brakes failed while she was driving, which led to a car collision with plaintiff. Defendant had no idea her brakes were defective at the time of the accident. Three months before the collision, defendant had her brakes overhauled by a mechanic. However, the mechanic had negligently performed the brake repair. Plaintiff sued defendant to recover damages.
A vehicle owner may be held liable in tort because the responsibility for minimizing the risks associated with an improperly maintained vehicle rests with the person who owns an operates the vehicle.
Maloney (plaintiff) was driving when her vehicle was suddenly struck by Rath’s vehicle (defendant). Rath’s brakes were defective, and her car failed to brake before colliding with Maloney. Three months before the collision, Rath had her brakes overhauled by a mechanic. However, the brake repair was performed negligently. Maloney sued Rath for damages to recover for injuries resulting from the accident. The trial court found that Rath had no reason to know her brakes were defective. The court attributed the cause of the accident to the mechanic’s negligent repair of Rath’s car. The court rendered a judgment in favor of Rath. The trial judge denied Maloney’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the issue of liability. Maloney appealed.
Whether a vehicle owner may be liable in tort for harm resulting from an independent contractor’s negligent maintenance of his or her vehicle?
Yes, the responsibility for minimizing the risks associated with an improperly maintained vehicle rests with the person who owns an operates the vehicle. The judgment and order denying Maloney’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict is reversed. The case is remanded for a new trial on the issue of damages only.
A nondelegable duty is an assurance to injured parties that they will still be compensated when negligence occurs. The Restatement (Second) of Torts recognizes nondelegable duties in relation to the maintenance of instrumentalities by independent contractors. California statutory provisions expressly recognize that improperly maintained motor vehicles pose “a grave risk of serious bodily harm or death.” Accordingly, the responsibility for maintaining a motor vehicle in accordance with the Vehicle Code rests with the person who owns and operates the vehicle. Here, it is undisputed that the vehicle collision was caused by a failure of Rath’s brakes. Rath’s duty to maintain her brakes is nondelegable. The fact that the brake failure was the result of her mechanic’s negligence is no defense.