California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

721. Motor Vehicle Owner Liability—Affirmative Defense—Use Beyond Scope of Permission

[Name of defendant] claims that [he/she] is not responsible for [name of plaintiff]’s harm because [name of driver]’s use of the vehicle exceeded the scope of the permission given. To succeed, [name of defendant] must prove both of the following:

1. That [name of defendant], by words or conduct, gave permission to [name of driver] to use the vehicle for a limited time, place, or purpose; and

2. That [name of driver]’s use of the vehicle substantially violated the time, place, or purpose specified.

New September 2003

Directions for Use

This instruction is intended for use when the vehicle owner contends that the use of the vehicle exceeded the scope of the permission, thereby terminating the permission.

Sources and Authority

  • Vehicle Code section 17150 provides: “Every owner of a motor vehicle is liable and responsible for death or injury to person or property resulting from a negligent or wrongful act or omission in the operation of the motor vehicle, in the business of the owner or otherwise, by any person using or operating the same with the permission, express or implied, of the owner.”
  • “[W]here the permission is granted for a limited time, any use after the expiration of the period is without consent, and the owner is not liable, unless the circumstances justify an inference of implied consent to further use. [¶] . . . On principle, there is no fundamental ground of distinction between a limitation of time and one of purpose or place, insofar as permission is concerned; and it would seem clear that a substantial violation of either limitation terminates the original express consent and makes the subsequent use without permission. . . . [¶] . . . [T]he substantial violation of limitations as to locality or purpose of use operate in the same manner as violation of time limitations, absolving the owner from liability.” (Henrietta v. Evans (1938) 10 Cal.2d 526, 528–529 [75 P.2d 1051], internal citations omitted.)
  • “[W]here restrictions by the owner as to time, purpose, or area are involved, the owner’s permission is considered terminated only where there has been a substantial violation of such restrictions, and it is a question of fact whether under all the circumstances presented, such restrictions as to time, purpose, or area have been substantially violated prior to the occurrence of the accident so as to vitiate the owner’s permission and thus absolve him from the vicarious liability imposed under [the predecessor to section 17150].” (Peterson v. Grieger, Inc. (1961) 57 Cal.2d 43, 52 [17 Cal.Rptr. 828, 367 P.2d 420], internal citations omitted.)
  • “What is a substantial deviation from a permitted use is a question of fact under the circumstances of each case.” (Garmon v. Sebastian (1960) 181 Cal.App.2d 254, 260 [5 Cal.Rptr. 101].)

Secondary Sources

6 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, § 1272

California Tort Guide (Cont.Ed.Bar 3d ed.) Automobiles, §§ 4.35–4.36

2 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 20, Motor Vehicles, § 20.20[5][c] (Matthew Bender)

8 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 82, Automobiles: Causes of Action, § 82.16 (Matthew Bender)