Am I liable for damages to our vehicle after a DUI? 28 Answers as of June 10, 2013

As part of the terms of our divorce, my ex-wife received one of the vehicles titled jointly in both of our names. I signed the title over to her in October 2009 but she has not re-registered it in her name. She is under suspension for refusing to take a breath test after being stopped for suspicion of DUI. Am I liable for damages should the vehicle be involved in an accident while driven by her or someone else?

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The Law Firm of David Jolly
The Law Firm of David Jolly | David Jolly
If the title of the vehicle is in your name and it is involved in an accident, you may be liable for any resulting liability. It's hard to be more specific than that, but the potential does exist. You should be certain that you file with your local DOL/DMV paperwork transferring title, if your ex-wife does not.
Answer Applies to: Washington
Replied: 5/27/2011
The Law Office of B. Elaine Jones
The Law Office of B. Elaine Jones | B. Elaine Jones
The State of Florida has a law called the "dangerous instrumentality" rule. Basically, if you own a vehicle and it is titled in your name, and someone else drives the vehicle with your consent ( in other words its not stolen), you may be liable for damages that are the result of an accident caused by whomever is driving your vehicle. You state you signed the title over to her but she has not re-registered it in her name, you may have to go back to divorce court to compel her to change the title and get your name off the vehicle. Good Luck.
Answer Applies to: Florida
Replied: 5/18/2011
Palumbo and Kosofsky
Palumbo and Kosofsky | Michael Palumbo
You may be. I would recommend turning the plates into the DMV.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 5/18/2011
Law Office of Joseph A. Katz
Law Office of Joseph A. Katz | Joseph A. Katz
Possibly, yes. You did not say at what stage of the dissolution proceedings you are. Even if you will ultimately prevail, do you really want to have to litigate potential liability, should your ex-wife cause an accident? You should complete and submit a 'Notice of Release of Liability' as soon as possible.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 5/17/2011
Law Office of Phillip Weiser
Law Office of Phillip Weiser | Phillip L. Weiser
Liability for damages is dependent upon specific facts. Without facts, that question cannot be adequately answered.
Answer Applies to: Kansas
Replied: 5/17/2011
    Andersen Law PLLC
    Andersen Law PLLC | Craig Andersen
    What you're asking is not a criminal law question. Fortunately, I have some experience in this area. If you are divorced, you are not liable for your ex-wife's post-dissolution screw ups. Unless it appears in the dissolution decree it isn't your problem. However, to make sure you don't end up being questioned or arrested if she hits and runs; and so you don't end up with a bunch of parking tickets, the foolproof way to protect yourself is to file a notice of transfer with the Washington State Department of Licensing. You can go into any drivers' licensing office and pick one up. You may even be able to download the form on line.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 5/17/2011
    Nelson & Lawless
    Nelson & Lawless | Terry Nelson
    If you are on title and she causes damage and gets sued, you do too. Every registered owner of record is liable for damages, up to $15k each occurrence. Id get the DMV transfer done ASAP.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 5/17/2011
    Edward  D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law
    Edward D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law | Edward D. Dowling IV
    You could be liable but you should tell her in writing that unless she re-registers it in her name you will not give her permission to drive the vehicle. If she refuses you should tell your divorce attorney and he should contact the court that head jurisdiction over the divorce.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 5/17/2011
    Michael Anthony Wing, P.C.
    Michael Anthony Wing, P.C. | Michael Anthony Wing
    I seriously doubt it. You liability, if any, would be based on a claim for negligent entrustment, which I don't see if you were ordered to give her the car. Stay well.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 5/17/2011
    Bloom Legal, LLC
    Bloom Legal, LLC | Seth J. Bloom
    If you no longer hold the title to the vehicle, it is unlikely that you are liable for damage. That being said, you should work with your ex-wife (through an attorney if necessary) to compel her to re-register the vehicle in her name. The fact that you signed the title over would probably assist in any legal proceedings to absolve you of liability but maybe not until court proceedings had begun. To avoid any potential complications it would be important to have her register the vehicle in her name.
    Answer Applies to: Louisiana
    Replied: 5/17/2011
    Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly
    Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly | Brendan M. Kelly
    The driver is responsible for damages unless you allow a minor to drive.
    Answer Applies to: Nebraska
    Replied: 5/17/2011
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C.
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C. | Craig Elhart
    Since you are still technically the owner of the vehicle, your ex-wife has not asked the Secretary of State to issue a new title in her name, you could be named in a lawsuit if she was in an accident creating third party liability. However, with the Judgment of Divorce and the fact you have signed off on the title, there could be a viable defense. As to damages to the vehicle, i assume you are speaking of collision type claims, this would be the responsibility of the owner, in this case your wife. Hopefully, she has the vehicle properly insured. If you would like further information, contact me.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 5/17/2011
    Law Offices of John Carney
    Law Offices of John Carney | John Carney
    In your summary you state that your ex-wife has not had the car registered in her name after it was given to her in the divorce. That means you may be liable since you are still on the registration. You lawyer should have required that she register the car in her name and that it be owned and registered as well as insured in her name only to protect you from liability. That is why you need an experienced attorney so that all of the details are handled appropriately and you are protected.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 5/16/2011
    Law Office of Thomas F. Mueller
    Law Office of Thomas F. Mueller | Thomas Mueller
    There is a possibility you could be held liable unless you do every thing possible to make sure your name is not associated with that vehicle. I suggest you send a letter to her telling her you do not accept any responsibility; also inform DMV that you no longer own the car; also cancel your insurance coverage for that car and inform the ins. Co. That she may not be insured.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 5/16/2011
    Theodore W. Robinson, P.C.
    Theodore W. Robinson, P.C. | Theodore W. Robinson
    Unfortunately, yes, you are still the owner of record and as such, you could be responsible for damage caused by "your" vehicle, or at least half of them. You may have the right to indemnification by your former wife, but that's a drawn our affair too. Speak to a negligence lawyer about this question. Good luck.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 5/16/2011
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr. | Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    You could be. Speak to your divorce attorney about the change of title.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 5/16/2011
    Beaulier Law Office
    Beaulier Law Office | Maury Beaulier
    No. Only the negligent driver and that persons insurer would be liable.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 5/16/2011
    Law Offices of Scott G. Hilderman
    Law Offices of Scott G. Hilderman | Scott G. Hilderman
    No.
    Answer Applies to: Montana
    Replied: 6/10/2013
    Timothy J. Thill P.C.
    Timothy J. Thill P.C. | Timothy J. Thill
    As long as your name is on the title, you may be liable for damages caused by her. You should insist that she re-register the vehicle in her own name. For further information, you should talk to a civil attorney, (perhaps your divorce attorney), who has more experience than I have, as this question is more civil in nature than criminal.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 5/16/2011
    Law Office of Michael E. Hendrickson
    Law Office of Michael E. Hendrickson | Michael E. Hendrickson
    No, not if you signed the title over to her, making her the sole owner of this vehicle. (And, FYI, ownership of a vehicle is not conditioned upon having it properly registered with the DMV.)
    Answer Applies to: Virginia
    Replied: 5/16/2011
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law | Thomas J. Tomko
    In your divorce judgement, the vehicle would have been awarded to your ex-wife. You should ensure that the title was transferred. If not, you can bring a motion in your divorce case to force her to transfer the title. In some cases, if the car is financed, this may require that the car be refinanced. Damage to the vehicle itself is not the major issue. In Michigan, should there be an accident and your name is on the vehicle, you could be liable as a owner of the vehicle to another driver for injuries which meet the thresh-hold requirement, (or other damages if insurance lapses.) Therefore, it is important that if your name is on the vehicle that the vehicle be insured. Again, this can be enforced in the Divorce case. I hope that this was helpful.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 5/16/2011
    Austin Legal Services, PLC
    Austin Legal Services, PLC | Jared Austin
    If the vehicle is still in your name you could be liable if you permitted someone either knowingly or negligently to operate your vehicle in a negligent and unsafe manner then you could be held responsible under that theory. This situation sounds complicated. I would recommend seeking out a lawyer right away.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 5/16/2011
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C.
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C. | Dennis Roberts
    File a form with DMV saying you sold vehicle and to whom. Tell the drunk she better have insurance as neither she nor her boozing are your problem any more. Then get on your knees and thank god you are done with her.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 5/16/2011
    Howard W. Collins, Attorney at Law
    Howard W. Collins, Attorney at Law | Howard W. Collins
    The quick answer is no. Mere ownership is not a basis for liability except for some exceptions such as negligent entrustment or the family purpose doctrine. Since the car was awarded to her in a divorce, neither of these theories of liability would apply so, I believe you are in the clear. The judgment of dissolution of marriage normally would contain a provision for transferring titles by operation of the Judgment. Without more information I cannot really give you much more than the above.
    Answer Applies to: Oregon
    Replied: 5/16/2011
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