When a relative or close friend asks to borrow your ride, you probably hand the keys over without thinking twice. But, what happens if someone gets into an accident while driving your car? They have a valid driver’s license, and your car is insured. Unfortunately, people find out every day that there are limitations on how and when the insurance company pays even with the help of a car accident lawyer in your area.
Who Pays? The Driver or the Owner
Most of the time, the person driving a car is the owner. But, that isn’t always the case. Determining liability can be confusing, depending on the circumstances and the seriousness of the accident. One way to understand the difference is to look at a variety of scenarios.
Scenario #1: You Give Your Permission for Your Friend Jake to Drive Your Car
Jake asks to borrow your car to run some errands. You agree and hand over your keys. While Jake is driving your car, he has a minor fender bender that causes another driver minor injuries and property damage. In this situation, you are liable for the damages because you own the car and you gave Jake permission to drive it.
Scenario #2: Jake Has a More Serious Accident
Consider the same conditions as the previous scenario but with more serious injuries and damage to the other driver’s car. The wreck totals the other driver’s new luxury sedan valued at more than $70,000. The other driver is transported to the hospital by ambulance where he is taken into surgery. The extensive hospital stay, ongoing medical treatment, and loss of wages while recuperating exceed beyond the $1 million dollar mark.
Too often, drivers don’t realize the limits of liability on their insurance coverage. In California, the minimal car insurance drivers must carry is:
- $15,000 for injury or death of one person per accident
- $30,000 for injury or death of two or more persons per accident
- $5,000 for property damage per accident
Although these are the minimum requirements, you do have the option to take out more coverage. Many drivers opt for minimum coverage to save on their monthly premiums. As you can see, the outcome can end up being a lot more expensive.
In this scenario, you are still liable for the property damage and injuries Jake caused the other driver because you gave him permission to drive your car. When the insurance coverage isn’t enough to cover all the damages, the other party has the option to file a personal injury lawsuit to get the remainder of the damages owed. If they do, the lawsuit will almost always be against you and not against Jake. You should talk with a personal injury attorney in Bakersfield before the case ever gets to this point.
There are exceptions to the rule of liability, including who is liable for the remaining damages. If Jake has car insurance and you don’t have the assets to cover the cost of damages, the other party might go after Jake’s insurance company. The bottom line is that if you have anything to lose, get legal guidance early on to help you protect your assets.
The Doctrine of Negligent Entrustment in California
The legal doctrine of vicarious liability dictates that the owner of the car is liable for any damages caused by that car in an accident, regardless of who is behind the wheel at the time. The only contingency is that the owner gave their permission for the driver to use their car.
In California, there is also the doctrine of negligent entrustment which applies. This doctrine places liability on the owner of the car whenever they lend their car to someone who is not fit to drive. That means that you will be held liable in California if someone you allow to drive your car causes an accident while:
– Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
– Under the age of 16
– Impaired by illness
– Not in possession of a valid driver’s license
– Inexperienced or incompetent
– Known to have a history of reckless driving or of violating traffic rules (for example, speeding)
What Happens If Someone Gets Into an Accident While Driving Your Car with You in It?
The only difference you being in the vehicle makes is that it reinforces the idea that you gave the other person permission to drive your car. As long as you gave the other person permission to drive your car, it doesn’t matter if you were in the passenger’s seat or at home watching the game on TV. You are always liable for the actions of a permissive driver.
When Your Insurance Company Won’t Pay
It goes to reason that if giving someone else permission to drive your car makes you liable, then their driving it without permission is an exception. The challenge here may be in proving that they didn’t have your permission to take your vehicle. If you can, they are liable for the damage, not you. Talk to a personal injury attorney to learn more about proving your case.
Chances are that you have all of the drivers in your family listed on your car insurance policy. If you look at the policy, it will include all the covered drivers and vehicles to which the coverage applies. Anyone who is listed on the policy has the same coverage that you do. If they cause an accident, the insurance will provide the same coverage that you would get from causing an accident.
The exception to this situation is when the driver was someone in your household who was specifically excluded from your insurance policy. This might be a high-risk driver like a teen or senior who isn’t covered under your policy to minimize your insurance rates.
If the excluded driver borrows your car and gets into an accident, your insurance won’t pay. Technically, they aren’t covered under your policy, so you can’t give them permission to drive your car.
Driving Under the Influence
If the other driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol while driving your car, the insurance won’t pay for the damages caused in an accident. In fact, you might be held criminally liable if you hand the keys over to someone you know is under the influence.
Letting Someone Drive Without a Valid Driver’s License
You might think it isn’t your responsibility to ensure someone else has a valid driver’s license before entrusting them with your car. Failing to check or knowingly letting them drive your car will result in your insurance company not paying if they cause an accident.
Someone Steals Your Car
You aren’t generally liable for any of the damages someone causes when they steal your car. If your car gets stolen, call the police immediately and inform your insurance company right away. Report the stolen vehicle to the California DMV. They retain a database of stolen vehicles and may be able to help you recover your vehicle sooner.
Depending on your insurance policy, your policy might provide a rental car during the period that your car is missing or until it is considered lost. If your coverage also has comprehensive coverage, your insurance company might help pay to replace your car. If the car is recovered, they will probably pay for any damages. Whether your car is ever recovered or not, you aren’t liable for any accidents or damage caused by the driver.
What Happens to Your Insurance Rates If Someone Gets Into an Accident While Driving Your Car?
You know how insurance works. You pay a fortune in premiums each month only to have a hike in rates as soon as you submit the first claim. Since your insurance covers a permissible driver in your car, you can expect the same premium hikes that you would get if you had an accident while you were driving.
If you’ve had a safe driving record for years with your current insurance company, they might offer accident forgiveness. That means they won’t raise your rates after your first accident. This option is usually offered as an add-on, so you’ll need to talk with your insurance company about whether it’s available.
Depending on your location and your coverage, permissive drivers might have reduced coverage any time they drive. Make sure you know what your policy covers and how much protection it offers in case of an accident.
What Happens If a Teen Gets Into an Accident While Driving Your Car?
Teens can get their learner’s permit in California at the age of 15 and a half. They can’t obtain their driver’s license until they hold their permit at least six months. You should notify your insurance company as soon as you have a teen driver. You can add your teen onto your insurance but usually at a cost. Teens are considered “high risk” and their coverage is considerably higher than that for more experienced drivers.
Any time your teen is involved in an accident, you have liability. If you choose to revoke your consent at any time, you must complete a “Request for Cancellation or Surrender of a Driver License or Identification Card” form to the DMV. This will cancel your teen’s driver permit or license.
Your teen is much more likely to cause an accident than other drivers. Young drivers simply don’t have the experience under their belt that other drivers do. They don’t realize the dangers of driving, and those who do often take risks anyway.
It’s one thing to follow the laws about teen drivers with permits and licenses. It’s another to take responsibility for teaching your teen the importance of safe driving. Think twice before handing over your car keys to your teen. Remember, you’re liable for their actions and any accident they cause. Besides, you want to keep your teen as safe as possible. Talk about the responsibilities of driving with your teen and avoid letting them drive when the risks are greater. Some tips for helping your teen drive safer include:
- Make them sign a pledge to always follow all of your rules.
- Require that every person in the vehicle buckle up at all times.
- Limit the number of passengers in the car.
- Have a zero-tolerance policy for drinking or impaired driving.
- Restrict any cell phone use while the car is in motion.
- Limit their driving to daytime hours until they become more experienced.
Teens love the freedom of driving, and they often want to test their limits. Make it clear that failing to follow the terms of the pledge will result in the loss of their driving privileges. It’s better to prevent an accident than it is to wait until after it happens to ask what happens if someone gets into an accident while driving your car.
When Another Driver Wrecks Your Car
Many people falsely believe that their insurance company is there to protect them under any circumstances. After all, that’s why they have insurance coverage. But, insurance companies don’t want to pay out for claims that they don’t have to. They might use any of several tactics to prevent paying the full amount of damages or paying any amount at all.
The circumstances listed here are based on car accidents where the person borrowing your car is at fault. But, what happens if another driver is at fault for the accident? Since the at-fault driver is liable for paying the damages, then the other driver’s insurance company must pay you.
Since everything comes down to who is at fault for the accident, the other driver’s insurance company might try to put the blame on the person driving your car. If they win their case, they won’t have to pay any damages to you or to the driver of your car. That’s why you should talk to an auto accident attorney any time another driver wrecks your car. Otherwise, you could still be held liable for an accident that neither of you caused.
Did Someone Else Get Into an Accident While Driving Your Car?
Don’t wait to talk to an experienced attorney about your case. Contact Kuzyk Law to schedule a consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney. We have the experience needed to fight for your rights against insurance companies and get the best outcome for your case.