If someone else is driving your car and there is a car accident, responsibility and liability will depend on who caused the accident and the person driving your car. It will also depend on the terms of your auto insurance policy. Your responsibility is different, for example, if your car was stolen than if you negligently entrusted it to someone.
Who is liable if the other driver causes a car accident?
The general rule is that the driver who causes the accident is liable for the damages. Therefore, if you let someone else drive your motor vehicle, and then they get into an accident that was caused by a driver in a different vehicle, the other driver is responsible. The other driver’s liability insurance will be called on to cover:
- the property damage to your car, and
- the legal damages of the person who was driving your car.
However, you may still see your car insurance rates go up after the crash. Auto insurance companies will often justify this by saying you are more of a risk because you loaned your car to someone else.
What if someone else drove my car and caused the crash?
If someone else was driving your car and they caused the crash, 2 factors will determine whether you can be held liable or not:
- the terms of your auto insurance policy, and
- whether you permitted their use of your car.
Most auto insurance policies provide coverage to the vehicle, not to the driver in it. This means that the liability coverage generally extends to the person driving your vehicle, even if it was not you. The precise details of the policy will make a big difference.
However, there are often exceptions to liability coverage for someone else driving your car. These exceptions generally hinge on whether the other person was driving with your permission or not.
Getting the legal advice of a car accident attorney is important. An attorney can protect your rights during a personal injury claim.
If you gave the driver permission to use your vehicle, your insurance coverage will generally extend to the driver. This is known as the “permissive use” doctrine. If your friend causes an accident that hurts someone else, your liability coverage will act as the primary coverage. It will pay for the damages until it is exhausted. At that point, it will trigger the liability insurance of the driver of your vehicle. The driver’s insurer, as a secondary coverage, will then pay the remaining damages until it has been exhausted.
For example: Ann lets Ben borrow her car. Ben then causes a car crash that hurts Carla. Carla suffers $300,000 in medical bills and other legal damages. The collision coverage on Ann’s car insurance has a limit of $250,000. As the primary coverage, it will pay for Carla’s damages until it hits the limit. At that point, Ben’s own insurance company comes into play. As the secondary coverage, it will pay for the remaining $50,000, so long as its policy limit is not less than that.
This combination of insurance coverage can compensate the victim of the accident. It can also protect your friend from being held personally liable to pay that compensation. However, your car insurance premium rates will likely go up, even though you did not cause the accident. Many insurers claim that loaning your car makes you a riskier person to cover.
There is an important exception to this rule, though. If you negligently entrust someone with permission to use your car, you may be held liable.
If the driver was driving your car without your permission, that is a non-permissive use of your vehicle. This can happen in 2 ways:
- someone, often a friend or a family member, borrows your car without asking for it first, or
- someone steals your vehicle with the intent of depriving you of it forever.
In either case, the driver – not the car owner – will generally be responsible for any accidents that they cause. Your insurance coverage will not extend to non-permissive uses of your vehicle. It will be the at-fault driver’s insurance coverage that will have to pay for the damages caused.
In many cases where the driver stole the car from the vehicle owner, the driver does not have any type of insurance. This can leave bodily injury victims reliant on any uninsured motorist coverage that they have. They may not recover any compensation, at all. They will still have to pay their car insurance policy’s deductible. These victims can benefit the most from establishing an attorney-client relationship with an effective car accident lawyer and filing an accident claim.
There is an important exception in some states, though. If you failed to take reasonable steps to prevent a thief from stealing your car, you may still be held liable for a resulting crash. California is one of these states. There, you can be held liable if you had left the keys in the ignition before the thief stole the vehicle.1
It is also important to note the difference between a thief stealing your car and a friend “borrowing” it. It is usually very clear that a thief did not have your permission to use the vehicle. However, insurers, courts, and plaintiffs are generally skeptical of the claim that you did not give your friend permission. They often presume that you gave permission. You may struggle to prove otherwise. A personal injury lawyer from a reputable law firm can help.
What if I let a friend use my car when he should not be driving?
Usually, the permissive use doctrine extends your insurance coverage to the driver who has permission to drive your vehicle. However, there is an exception to this doctrine if you negligently entrust your vehicle to someone who is a risk on the road. In these cases, you can be held liable for the damages from a resulting auto accident.
Examples of the negligent entrustment of your vehicle include:
- letting a child drive it,
- giving the keys to an intoxicated friend so he or she can drive home after a night out,
- telling a friend who is under the influence of drugs to drive to the store,
- lending your car to someone who has lost their driver’s license due to unsafe driving, or
- letting an elderly person with dementia drive your vehicle.
In these cases, your car insurance would no longer cover the permitted use of your vehicle. Victims can hold you liable for their losses.
Additionally, some states make it a crime to entrust your vehicle to someone who is clearly a risk. In California, for example, it is a misdemeanor for an adult to give possession of a motor vehicle to a minor when:
- the minor does not have a right to the vehicle and either:
- the adult knows the minor is intoxicated, or
- the minor has previously been convicted for certain motor vehicle violations.2