Motor Vehicle Accident Cases

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Special rules apply when it comes to motor vehicle accidents. In most states, if your claim arises from an accident with an automobile, motorcycle, truck, or RV, you should name both the driver of the vehicle and the registered owner as defendants. This is because the vehicle's owner may be liable even if that person wasn't driving. Most of the time, you will obtain this information at the time of the accident. If the police make an accident report, it will contain this information. You can get a copy of any police report from the police department for a modest fee. If there was no police report–and assuming you have the license number of the offending vehicle–contact the Department of Motor Vehicles. Tell them you want to find out the name and address of the vehicle's owner for purposes of filing and serving a lawsuit based on a motor vehicle accident. This is a legitimate reason in most states, and you will get the information you need. However, in some states, you may need to complete some forms or jump through some other hoops to learn the owner's name, and the owner of the car may be notified of your request.

Remember, when you sue more than one person (in this case the driver and the owner, if they are different), serve papers on both. When a business owns a vehicle, sue both the driver and the owners of the business. If a minor child is driving the car, find out the parents' names and, if possible, whether they gave their child permission to drive. (See "How to Sue Minors," below.)

EXAMPLE: You are involved in a car accident, and the driver of the other car is a young woman who first identifies herself as "Suzie Q" and then tells the police that her name is Suzanne Quigley. When you try to talk to Suzie about paying to replace your smashed headlight, she blows you off. You request a copy of the accident report from the police and find out that Suzanne is 17 and was driving a car owned by her parents, whose names are George and Mary Quigley. You strike out when you ask Suzanne's parents to pay for the damage but find out she was driving the car with their permission. When you sue, you list the defendants as follows: Suzanne Quigley, also known as Suzie Q, a minor; and George Quigley and Mary Quigley, husband and wife and parents of defendant Suzanne Quigley and co-owners of the motor vehicle.

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