Whether you lent your car to someone for a quick drive or had it stolen, the responsibility and liability in the event of a car accident depend on who the at-fault party is and the person driving your vehicle. It also depends on your car insurance policy terms.
Understanding car insurance can be confusing. But it can be even more worrisome if someone else crashes your vehicle. Here, we will explore responsibility and liability in different situations.
California Is a Fault-based State
Regarding auto insurance, California is a fault-based state meaning anyone injured in an accident in the state can pursue an insurance claim against their insurance company or the negligent party’s insurer to recover compensation for the damages caused. However, the law gets complicated when the person causing the accident is not the car’s owner.
Does the Car Insurance Follow the Car or Driver in California?
It is crucial to know whether the car insurance follows the car or the driver in California to understand the implications of a person crashing someone else’s vehicle,
Generally, auto insurance follows the car and not the driver. When a car owner pays the insurance costs, the policy covers their vehicle, meaning if someone else is driving your car, your insurance will provide coverage. However, there are notable exceptions to this.
Who Is Liable If the Other Driver Causes a Car Accident?
Generally, anyone causing the accident is liable for the damages.
Suppose you’ve let a friend drive your car, and they got into an accident caused by another driver. In that case, the other driver is typically responsible for the damages (vehicle repairs and medical bills). You would have to file a claim under the third-party car owner’s insurance policy to cover the property damages to your vehicle and any injuries to your car’s driver.
However, your insurance company may jack up your insurance rates after the accident, justifying their actions by labeling you as a high-risk individual since you loaned your vehicle.
What Happens If Someone Else Is Driving My Car and Gets in an Accident in California?
Let’s take the same example as before.
Your friend borrows your car and gets into an accident, but this time, the crash was their fault.
In such situations, two factors will play a role in determining liability, and these include:
- Your auto insurance policy
- Whether you gave the other driver permission to drive your car
Most auto insurance policies provide liability coverage that extends to the vehicle, not the person driving it. Even if you’re not driving your car, your insurance extends to the individual driving your vehicle. Your policy terms make a difference.
Although certain exceptions to insurance coverage extend to an individual driving your vehicle, these exceptions rely on whether or not you gave the other party permission to drive your car.
How Permission Can Affect Responsibility and Liability Following a Car Accident
Let’s look at the liability of a car crash in two situations involving permissive and non-permissive use.
I Gave Permission to Drive My Car. Who Is Liable If They Crash My Vehicle?
Suppose another person is driving your car with your permission, and they become the at-fault driver in an accident. In that case, your own insurance company will extend insurance coverage to the person driving your car.
If an accident occurs due to the reckless actions of your friend causing injuries to others, your insurance will act as primary coverage, paying for the damages until exhausted. Once the damages exceed your insurance’s policy limits, it will trigger your friend’s liability insurance. Under the “permissive use” doctrine, your friend’s insurance acts as secondary coverage, kicking in to pay the remaining damages.
Let’s look at the following example.
Joe lets Jack borrow his vehicle for the day. By afternoon Jack gets in an accident, hurting Anna, who now suffers $400,000 in medical bills and legal fees. The collision coverage on Joe’s auto insurance has a limit of $300,000. Under the “permissive use” doctrine, Joe’s insurance will become the primary coverage and pay for Anna’s damages until it hits the limit. Since the damages are $100,000 more than what Joe’s policy covers, Jack’s insurance company will become the secondary coverage and pay for the remaining amount as long as it falls under Jack’s insurance policy limits.
The combination of two insurance coverages can compensate the accident victim and protect your friend from personally paying the liability.
However, in such situations, insurers see the person loaning their car to another as riskier, which is why the insurance premium is more than likely to go up, even if you weren’t the one causing the accident.
The exception to permissive use is when you negligently entrust another person with permission to drive your vehicle. In that case, you may be liable for the damages.
I Did Not Give Permission to Drive My Car. Who Is Liable If They Crash My Vehicle?
Non-permissive use of your vehicle means that your friend, relative, neighbor, or someone else you know is driving your car without your permission. It could also mean that someone stole your vehicle with the intent of never returning it.
In both the non-permissive use cases, the driver will be responsible for any damages from accidents they cause, not the car owner. Although insurance coverage follows the car, it will not extend to non-permissive uses. The at-fault driver’s insurance company will have to provide coverage for the accident caused.
In most cases where a driver steals a vehicle from a car owner, they generally do not have insurance and are treated as uninsured motorists. Accident victims suffering injuries must rely on uninsured motorist coverage (if they have one) to pay for medical treatments.
However, in some states, including California, car owners must take reasonable steps to prevent anyone from stealing their vehicle. Failing to do so will hold them liable for damages resulting from a crash. For example, if a thief in California steals your car because you left your keys in the ignition, you will be liable for any accident caused.
A distinct notable difference exists between a person stealing your vehicle and a friend “borrowing” it. Thieves do not have permission, but insurance companies, courts, and plaintiffs are often skeptical of the claim that the vehicle owner did not provide his friend with permission to use their vehicle.
They generally presume permissive use in the case of a friend, which may make it challenging for the vehicle owner to prove. Having a reputable and skilled car accident lawyer can help establish the non-permissive use of the vehicle.
I Let My Friend Drive My Car When They Shouldn’t. What Happens Then?
If you know why your friend should not be driving a vehicle, you are negligently entrusting a risky individual with your car. In such cases, you may be liable for the damages from any accident caused.
Negligent entrustment could include:
- Letting a minor drive your car
- Letting your intoxicated friend drive your vehicle
- Asking your friend who is under the influence to drive
- Letting someone who does not have a valid driver’s license due to unsafe driving drive your car
- Letting elderly suffering from dementia drive
- Allowing a person excluded from your policy to drive your car
In such situations mentioned above and similar incidences, your insurer will not cover permissive use of your car, meaning victims can pursue legal action against you for their loss.
It is a crime in some states to entrust a high-risk individual with your vehicle.
For example, in California, it is a misdemeanor to give possession of a car to a minor when:
- They do not have the right to the vehicle, and
- The adult is aware that they are intoxicated or previously convicted of certain motor vehicle violations.
All the situations mentioned above assume that you let the other person borrow your car, which makes you liable in the case of an accident. You should reach out to an experienced California car accident attorney if you didn’t permit the other person to use it to help prove your case.
Vicarious Liability in California
Under California law, parties may be held liable for indirectly causing an injury from an accident they did not cause. A few situations include the following.
An accident victim can hold an employer financially liable for an accident caused by their employee. According to the principle of respondeat superior, the victim would need to prove that the employee’s actions were well within the scope of their employment.
Accident victims can hold vehicle owners liable for a car crash even if the owner was not driving their vehicle at the time of the incident. You are taking on vicarious liability for their actions by loaning your vehicle to someone.
Most parents let their teenagers drive their vehicles. However, in doing so, they take on vicarious liability if their child crashes the car and causes injuries and property damage to others.
Schedule a Free Consultation with a Car Accident Attorney
In the event that a third party causes an accident, having a strong attorney-client relationship following your accident can improve your chances of securing compensation.
If someone else is driving your car or if you’re driving someone else’s car, you need a reputable personal injury law firm by your side to hold the at-fault driver accountable for any damages to you.
Accident victims avoid approaching a law firm following their accident as they believe they do not have the financial resources to hire one. However, many do not realize that reputable law firms offer legal services on a contingency fee basis. The majority even provide a free consultation to help assess your case and guide you with your available legal options.
Don’t let someone else’s negligence financially burden you. Talk to an experienced attorney about your car accident before the two-year California statute of limitations deadline ends.