Can a Private Seller Be Liable for a Car Accident in San Diego, CA?

When you buy a used car from a private party in California, you may wonder – if that car is defective and causes an accident, could the seller be held responsible? Generally, private sellers are not liable for accidents caused by cars they have sold. However, there are some exceptions under California law that injured victims should be aware of.

No Implied Warranties with Private Car Sales

When you purchase a car from a dealership in California, the law implies certain warranties – even if you buy the car “as-is.” For example, there is an implied warranty of merchantability. This means the car should reasonably perform basic functions like driving and stopping safely.

However, implied warranties do not apply to private-party sales in California. According to the California Civil Code, “There shall be no implied warranty of merchantability or fitness with regard to property which is the subject of a contract for sale, if the seller is not a merchant with respect to property of such kind.”

This protects private sellers from liability for defects.

Seller Fraud Could Lead to Liability

While private sellers generally have no liability once the sale is complete, there are exceptions. For example, if the seller committed fraud by hiding known defects, they could potentially be sued for resulting harm.

According to Safe Roads USA, 12% of crashes in San Diego are alcohol-related. Let’s assume a private seller’s vehicle had brake problems. If the seller concealed this defect during sale talks and the brakes then failed, causing an impaired driver to crash into another car, the seller might face liability. An injured victim could argue the seller’s fraud led to foreseeable drunk driving and injury risks.

Other Possible Exceptions to Protection

In rare cases, other factors could potentially lead to seller liability after a completed private party sale. For example:

  • If the seller continued using the car after sale as if they were still the owner
  • If the car was sold through an agent/dealer instead of directly
  • If state vehicle transfer registration laws were violated

However, it would be difficult to apply these exceptions unless unique circumstances were present. In most cases, private sellers will face no liability exposure once the sale and transfer are complete.

Take Proper Precautions When Buying Privately

Since private sellers are generally not liable for defects that lead to crashes, take precautions when buying a used car:

  • Have a mechanic inspect the vehicle before purchase
  • Take the car for a lengthy test drive yourself
  • Check safety ratings, recall status, and history reports
  • Ask the seller detailed questions about the condition, repairs and problems

Hire a Lemon Law Attorney if You Are Injured After Purchase

While you likely can’t hold a private seller responsible post-sale, you need legal help if a defective car injures you. So, consider hiring an attorney after a serious accident. An experienced California lemon law attorney understands dealer and manufacturer liability rules. They can investigate your case, identify all responsible parties, and build strong legal arguments on your behalf. An attorney may also negotiate an early settlement, saving you from complicated litigation.

Don’t Assume You Have No Recourse if You Are Injured

While California provides private car sellers protection from liability after sale, talk to a lemon law attorney before signing away your rights. Under certain circumstances, you may have a case against a negligent seller, dealer, or manufacturer. An attorney can advise you of all legal options. With expert legal help, you can recover damages for injuries caused by a defective used car in San Diego, CA.