What is Joint Venture Liability?
Generally, only an automobile’s driver can be held liable for the injuries resulting from a crash, unless some other person was the owner of or had a right of control over the vehicle causing the accident.
This rule follows the common sense principle that only the driver is in a position to keep an accident from happening.
But sometimes, there are circumstances in which it is fair to hold someone else than the drive liable—even if the driver was at fault.
The following are examples of where courts have been willing to place liability on someone other than the at-fault driver:
- When the at-fault driver is performing a job-related task at the time of the accident, the driver’s employer can be liable. This is called respondeat superior.
- If the driver is acting as someone’s agent at the time of the accident—for example, if the driver is running an errand for you, you might be responsible if there is an accident
- If the driver and another person are engaged in a joint venture
When the Driver and Passengers Are Engaged in a Commercial Venture
The first type of joint venture liability will hold both a driver and a passenger liable for an accident if they were on a joint venture in which they both had a financial interest.
In addition to proving that the driver negligently caused the accident, the plaintiff would need to prove that:
- There was an agreement, either express of implied, between the driver and the passenger
- The passenger and the driver had a common goal
- The passenger and the driver had a financial interest in that goal
- The passenger and the driver had equal say and right of control in the venture
It is more and more rare for courts to fix liability on a passenger under this first type of joint liability. Indeed, a plaintiff seeking to recover from someone other than the driver can usually make stronger arguments under agency theory or respondeat superior if the driver and passengers were on a joint commercial venture.
When the Joint Venture is Inherently Dangerous
In Illinois, courts have been willing to use the joint venture concept to hold participants in dangerous activities jointly liable for any resulting injuries. Often times, these cases deal with street racing accidents.
If two cars are racing illegally, and one car loses control and causes injuries, Illinois courts are inclined to hold the drivers and passengers of both cars responsible.
Since both cars and their occupants were jointly engaged in a dangerous activity, courts are unwilling to limit liability to the one driver who happened to lose control. Indeed, all persons involved were behaving irresponsibly, and it would be unfair to hold only one person accountable for the consequences.
Put differently, courts view the street race—not the driver who lost control—as the cause of the accident. Thus, all who participated in or encouraged the street race would be responsible.
Illinois courts have considered joint venture liability in cases other than street races, such as when a passenger encouraged the driver to exceed the speed limit and ignore a stop sign. In cases such as these, it could be up to the jury to decide whether the driver and passenger were jointly negligent or not—it’s not as obvious as in a street race.