Q: I work for an escort agency and was assigned to a diplomat, new to the city and eager to see it. After a while, he offered to drive me home, and I accepted. As I pointed out the sights, he rear-ended another car. A lady at the rental agency says that, given the diplomat’s immunity, the agency is not liable.
A: A vehicle owner is vicariously liable for the negligence of those whom he or she allows to drive the vehicle. On the other, a diplomat who drives a vehicle negligently is immune from suit, under the Federal Diplomatic Relations Act. The question is whether the diplomat’s immunity extinguishes the vicarious liability of the rental agency.
In many cases the insurance of a foreign mission, although greater than the state minimum, is sadly not enough to compensate the victim in full.
In New York, Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388 provides that every vehicle owner is liable and responsible for death or injuries to person or property resulting from negligence in the use or operation of the vehicle by any person using or operating the vehicle with permission. The statute expresses the policy that one injured by the negligent operation of a motor vehicle should have recourse to a financially responsible defendant.
Our courts have ruled that the diplomatic-immunity statute does not furnish a basis for absolving the owner of liability. It does not push aside the New York statute. Our section 388 hinges the rental agency’s liability not on the diplomat’s liability but on the diplomat’s negligence.
By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial
The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.
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