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Who Is Considered A Vehicle Owner Under New York Vehicle And Traffic Law §388? (NY)

September 10, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Walker-v.-Town-of-Webster.pdf">Walker v. Town of Webster</a>,</em> the Appellate Division, Fourth Department addressed whether a former vehicle owner was considered an owner for the purposes of liability under Vehicle and Traffic Law §388. Plaintiff in that case allegedly sustained personal injuries when he was struck by a vehicle operated by defendant Buck. However, plaintiff also sued defendant Osborn, who had transferred ownership of the vehicle several months before the accident, for vicarious liability under Vehicle and Traffic Law §388. Osborn moved for summary judgment on the grounds that he no longer owned the vehicle, and the motion was granted by the Supreme Court.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Appellate Division reversed, finding that there was conflicting evidence as to the ownership of the vehicle. The court stated that “Vehicle and Traffic Law §388 (1) provides in relevant part that every "owner of a vehicle used or operated in this state shall be liable and responsible for . . . injuries to person or property resulting from negligence in the use or operation of such vehicle . . . by any person using or operating the same with the permission, express or implied, of such owner". The statute further provides that an " 'owner' shall be as defined in section one hundred twenty-eight" of the Vehicle and Traffic Law which in turn states that an owner is a "person, other than a lien holder, having the property in or title to a vehicle or vessel". (citations omitted). The court explained that while Osborne provided evidence that the vehicle was registered to the co-defendant, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles records showed that the vehicle was still titled to Osborn. Given this conflicting evidence, summary judgment was not appropriate.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">This decision serves as a reminder that in cases involving claims for vicarious liability under Vehicle and Traffic Law §388(1), the court will consider a vehicle’s title as evidence of ownership.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thank you to Corey Morgenstern for his contribution to this post. Please e-mail <a href="mailto:agibbs@wcmlaw.com">Andrew Gibbs</a> with any questions.</p>

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