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Cont'l Auto Lease Corp. v. Campbell - 19 N.Y.2d 350, 280 N.Y.S.2d 123, 227 N.E.2d 28 (1967)

Rule:

The touchstone of imputed contributory negligence is the existence of a relationship between the owner of the vehicle and the operator such that the operator of the vehicle is subject to the owner's control. Such control need not be actually exercised -- it can be inferred when the owner is physically present in the car. Likewise, the requisite degree of control might be found in the master-servant or principal-agent relationship when the physical operation of the vehicle is for the benefit of the owner.

Facts:

Continental Auto Lease Corporation was engaged in the auto rental business. Continental leased one of its automobiles to Kamman for a four-day period for a fixed sum plus a charge for mileage. During the rental period, Kamman was involved in an accident with an automobile driven by Shepard. It sued Shepard for damage to its automobile as the result of an accident. Shepard died after the action was commenced and his administratrix, Doris B. Campbell, was substituted as defendant. Upon the trial, the jury found both drivers negligent, but returned a verdict for Continental, as directed by the trial court. Judgment was entered accordingly, and affirmed, on appeal, by the Appellate Division. The case was appealed. The estate argued that the agency should be barred from recovery because the negligence of its customer was imputable to the agency.

Issue:

 Is Continental barred from recovery against Shepard because of the contributory negligence of Kamman?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the order entered in favor of the automobile rental agency. The court held that Kamman's negligence should not be imputed to Continental to bar Continental's recovery. The touchstone of imputed contributory negligence was the existence of a relationship between the owner of the vehicle and the operator such that the operator of the vehicle was subject to the owner's control. The agency had no interest in where or when the vehicle was driven and no relationship to the customer consistent with the inference that it had the right to control in any manner the customer's conduct as a driver.

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