595 F.Supp. 1114 (D.D.C. 1984), Civ. A. 84-0987, Lee v. Ford Motor Co.

Docket NºCiv. A. 84-0987
Citation595 F.Supp. 1114
Party NameLee v. Ford Motor Co.
Case DateOctober 22, 1984
CourtUnited States District Courts, District of Columbia

Page 1114

595 F.Supp. 1114 (D.D.C. 1984)

Stephanie LEE, A Minor, et al., Plaintiffs,



Civ. A. No. 84-0987.

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Oct. 22, 1984

Harry L. Ryan, Jr., Arlington, Va., for plaintiffs.

E. Milton Farley, III, Christopher A. Myers, Hunton & Williams, Washington, D.C., for defendant.


THOMAS F. HOGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiffs brought this action to recover damages for personal injuries sustained by Stephanie Lee on June 24, 1981, when she was struck by a vehicle owned by Defendant Ford and driven by Ronald Fullwood. Fullwood was operating the vehicle within the scope of his employment with the Farm Credit Administration, a federal agency that maintained the vehicle in question under a long term lease agreement with Ford.

Plaintiffs assert that Ford, as the owner of the vehicle, is liable for any negligence of Fullwood which may have resulted in injury to Stephanie Lee. The basis of plaintiffs' legal theory is the District of Columbia's Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act (the Act), which provides that:

Whenever any motor vehicle ... shall be operated upon the public highways of the District of Columbia by any person other than the owner, with the consent of the owner, express or implied, the operator thereof shall in case of accident, be deemed to be the agent of the owner of such motor vehicle, and the proof of the ownership of said motor vehicle shall be prima facie evidence that such person operated said motor vehicle with the consent of the owner.

D.C.Code § 40-408. The presumption created by the Act works a substantial change in the common law doctrine. See, e.g., Forrester v. Jerman, 90 F.2d 412 (D.C.Cir. 1937) (owner of automobile not liable for damages caused by another in use of automobile). By creating a fictitious agency relationship between the driver and owner, the law operates to sustain the owner's responsibility for the automobile's operation even when it is out of the physical control of the owner. The purpose of the act is obvious; it was intended to make automobile owners more conscientious in the loaning of their vehicles by allowing injured plaintiffs to shift the negligent

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driver's liability to the owner who consented to the tortfeasor's use of the car.

Defendant Ford has moved for summary judgment on the grounds that it should not be considered the "owner" of the vehicle under the Act as a matter of law. It is to this issue that the Court now turns.

As originally enacted in...

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