Christensen v. BowenAnnotate this Case
Robert Christensen ("Robert") paid for a vehicle, and the certificate of title was placed in the name of Robert and his wife, Mary, as co-owners. Thereafter, Mary struck and killed Thomas Bowen while driving the vehicle. Mary Jo Bowen ("Bowen"), the executor of her husband’s estate, filed an action for wrongful death against both Mary and Robert, alleging that Robert, as an owner of the vehicle, was vicariously liable for Mary’s negligence under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. Robert argued that he purchased the vehicle as a gift to Mary and that, afterwards, he had no involvement with the vehicle. Bowen unsuccessfully moved for a directed verdict on the issue of ownership. The jury subsequently found that Robert was not an owner of the vehicle. The district court reversed. The Supreme Court approved the district court’s ruling, holding (1) a person whose name is on the certificate of title of a vehicle as co-owner may not avoid vicarious liability under an exception to the dangerous instrumentality doctrine by asserting that he never intended to be the owner of the vehicle and further claiming that he relinquished control to a co-owner of the vehicle; and (2) therefore, Robert was the owner of the vehicle as a matter of law.