Can a Private Seller Be Liable for a Car Accident in San Antonio, TX?

When you sell your used car to another private party instead of trading it in or selling it to a dealership, you may wonder if you can be held responsible if the new owner gets into an accident. Understanding liability after a private sale is important in Texas and especially in major metro areas like San Antonio.

Texas is one of several states with laws specifically addressing liability after private vehicle sales. These laws attempt to shield sellers from accident liability once the ownership changes hands, with certain exceptions.

Transferring Title After Sale in San Antonio

One key aspect is making sure the title gets transferred properly after the sale. As a private seller, you typically provide the title signed over to the buyer. However, if you fail to record the title transfer with the DMV, this leaves you open to potential liability even after no longer owning the car.

According to Texas transportation code, the seller must provide a properly assigned title to complete the ownership transfer. The buyer must then officially register the newly purchased vehicle. If these steps don’t happen, the seller may still be considered a “constructive owner”.

What is Constructive Vehicle Ownership?

Constructive ownership refers to a situation where a person or entity gives up physical possession of a vehicle but could still be viewed as the legal owner. With private auto sales, failing to transfer title properly often leads to constructive ownership. 

So, if the new buyer has an accident, victims may be able to take legal action against you as well as the buyer. With more than 200 deadly car accidents in San Antonio in 2021, this is something to be aware of. 

An experienced personal injury attorney from George Salinas Injury Lawyers can determine if you have any liability under constructive ownership laws after selling your car to someone else.

Limits to Liability After Private Sale

While constructive ownership leaves sellers in a gray area legally, Texas law does provide some protection against liability after vehicle sale to a private party, such as:

  • The seller has no control over when the buyer titles and registers the car in their name. As long as you provide a completed title transfer document, responsibility shifts to the buyer.
  • The seller has no reasonable way to know if the buyer permits someone else to drive the vehicle. Another driver could potentially get into an accident without the original seller’s knowledge.

In these instances, the legal responsibility resides with the vehicle’s registered owner. Sellers can require buyers to show proof of insurance before purchase to add another layer of protection against liability.

Another way sellers protect themselves is by creating a detailed bill of sale documenting transfer of ownership on a specific date. This evidence helps demonstrate when liability is transferred to the buyer.

Can a Private Seller Ultimately Be Liable?  

While rare, certain situations could open up the seller to liability claims, such as:

  • Undisclosed vehicle defects directly contributing to an accident 
  • Invalid or improper titling paperwork
  • Reasonable grounds to foresee buyer would permit an unlicensed or underage driver

In these scenarios, accident victims may argue the seller should bear partial responsibility for resulting damages.

Taking these proactive measures reduces liability risk and protects sellers if the new owner gets into a major accident. Which is a possibility given there were nearly 11k speeding-related crashes in 2022.


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