In cases involving the negligent operation of a vehicle by a person not the owner plaintiffs have experienced extreme difficulty in proving that a master-servant relationship existed between the driver and the owner at the time of the accident so as to render the owner liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior.' It is frequently of the utmost importance to a plaintiff to prove that this relationship did exist, because in a large number of cases it is the owner of the vehicle, not the driver, who is financially responsible. A large majority of the courts came to recognize the empirical proposition that proof of ownership of a motor vehicle involved in an accident is sufficient to raise a prima facie case that the owner is liable under respondeat superior. A minority of the courts held that proof of ownership alone, without further evidence tending to prove a master-servant relationship, was insufficient to create a presumption that the person operating the vehicle at the time of the accident was the servant of the owner. The Tennessee court aligned itself with the minority view by holding that a prima facie case of the master-servant relationship is not established until the plaintiff produces evidence showing not only that the defendant was owner of the vehicle but that it was driven by a person generally employed as a servant and was being operated under conditions resembling those which normally attend its use in the master's business.
Eugene N. Collins,
The Tennessee Statutory Presumption of Agency by the Operation of a Motor Vehicle,
4 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol4/iss1/5