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Careful when loaning your car to a friend or family member

November 25, 2023

Careful when loaning your car to a friend or family member

When a parent lends their car to their son or daughter several worries probably come to mind, but it is doubtful that many ever consider that their son or daughter may transport illegal drugs in such car subjecting the car to immediate seizure and forfeiture.
In Tennessee, the law allows law enforcement officials to seize any vehicle that is used to transport illegal drugs. Many times the seized vehicle belongs to another person. Whether that vehicle is ultimately forfeited will depend on how innocent that owner really is and how much control they maintained over such vehicle.
Tennessee Code Annotated 53-11-451(a)(4)(B) states that no conveyance is subject to forfeiture by reason of any act or omission established by the owner of the conveyance to have been committed or omitted without the owner’s knowledge or consent.
In Worthy v. Dept of Safety, 1993 WL 404145 (Tenn. Ct. App) the court reviewed the decision of a trial court that had reversed the administrative decision granting forfeiture. In Worthy, the Petitioner had bought a van in June and had never actually taken possession of the vehicle. Her brother acted as her agent and completed the purchase of such van and the brother continued to drive the vehicle with her consent until the vehicle was confiscated after a drug transaction in October. The court of appeals found that the owner did not have knowledge of the illegal drug use and had not consented to such use. The court further found that even though the brother had possession that there was no evidence that he had an interest in such vehicle.
In Cunningham v. Dept. of Safety, 1997 WL 266851 (Tenn. Ct. App) the court also examined a case where a son used his father’s car with his consent wherein the state had argued that the vehicle was just as much the son’s as it was the father.
Each case will is likely fact specific. If your child or friend transports illegal drugs in your vehicle and you were not aware of such conduct, at the hearing the determination as to whether the car is forfeited will come down to how much ownership you retained in such vehicle. If you simply lent the car for the night, you should obviously get the car back, but if ownership is based solely on your name being on the title then the case is not as clear.
If you have your car seized in Tennessee, contact an attorney right away as you generally must petition for the return of such property within 30 days. Feel free to contact Vince Wyatt at 615-256-6666.