Written on May 27, 2020 9:24:28 AM
A Friend Borrowed My Car and Was in an Auto Accident, Who's Liable?
It’s time to tackle one of the biggest questions a lot of people have when a friend or family member borrows a car: “If they get into an auto accident, am I liable for the damages?”
When a friend or a family member borrows your car, the thought of an auto accident occurring may not come to mind. However, it can happen and when it does, it’s important to know whether or not you’ll be held responsible. Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy question to answer—largely because there are a lot of specific variables that can affect your liability and the amount you pay.
Whose Car Insurance Covers the Auto Accident?
When your car causes the crash, no matter who is driving, your car insurance will be required to cover the car accident. However, there are many variables that affect your liability, whether or not you must pay, and if so, the amount.
Variables that Affect Liability & Insurance
These variables include, but are not limited to:
- Permission. Whether or not you granted permission for the other driver to use the vehicle can be a factor in determining if you’ll be held liable for damages. For example, if a stranger steals your vehicle, you’re not typically liable for any damages to the property of others (you’d still have to pay for any damages to your own vehicle using your insurance, however).
- Household Status. Is the friend or family member a part of your household? If so, they might be included on your insurance and the damages will be covered just like if you were the one behind the wheel. Please be sure to check your insurance policy to see if it covers other drivers living at your address—if not, you may want to add them if you know they’ll be driving your vehicle.
- Fault. If the person borrowing your car isn’t at fault in the accident, then the other car’s driver will most likely pay. However, this is rare in states like Florida that have a no-fault accident policy.
- Exclusions. If you have explicitly excluded a driver from your insurance policy and they get into an accident in your car, you might be liable for damages, but your insurance won’t cover them. In short, you’d have to pay damages out of your own pocket.
- Insurance Limits. If the damages exceed the amount your insurance covers, then the insurance of the driver borrowing the vehicle MAY cover any remaining gaps—IF the other driver has insurance that covers a borrowed vehicle.
- Lending Your Car to a Dangerous Driver. If you lend your vehicle to an intoxicated or unlicensed driver, you could be held liable and sued for personal damages.
These variables can interact in different ways, or one might override another. On top of these variables, the specific nature of your car insurance coverage can affect whether or not your insurance will pay for certain events.
Car Insurance Follows the Car, Not the Driver
It may be commonly thought that the car insurance follows the driver, but it does not - car insurance follows the car, not the driver.
As a general rule of thumb, remember that most insurance policies follow the vehicle, not the driver. The DMV.org website notes that when a friend or family member borrows your car, “your car insurance is the primary coverage that would apply if a crash occurred. The driver’s insurance would act as secondary (or excess) insurance.”
For example, let’s say that Bob, 55, loans his car to his adult son William, 25, because William’s car is in the shop. William gets into an accident that exceeds Bob’s $10,000 of coverage. Bob’s insurance would cover the first $10,000 of damage, then William’s insurance would start to pay for excess damages. However, if William doesn’t have insurance, or that insurance won’t pay for William when he’s driving someone else’s vehicle, then Bob will have to cover the excess costs himself.
Get to Know Your Car Insurance Coverage
One of the most important things you can do to prepare for any eventuality is to learn everything you can about your insurance policy. You should contact your insurer to find out exactly what they cover and your liabilities may be if you let a friend or family member borrow your vehicle. Review your insurance policy and have your insurance provider explain any sections that you’re unsure of.
If you’re still not sure what your liabilities are in case of an accident in a borrowed vehicle, consider consulting with an experienced auto accident attorney.
Permissive Use vs Non-Permissive Use
Permissive use entails that you give permission to another driver to take you car; doing so entails that they will be covered by your own car insurance.
There are exceptions to the general rule of thumb. If your car is taken by a friend or family member without your permission, you can claim that it was non-permissive use. Though it may be difficult to prove that you didn’t give permission, if someone takes your car and causes an auto accident, several events can occur:
- Theft: If your car is taken without your permission and causes a car accident, you can claim that it was theft. You will not be liable for damage to the other vehicle or driver, but your vehicle’s damage will likely be covered by your insurance.
- Non-Permissive Use By Family or Friend: If a family member or friend borrows your car without asking and caused an auto accident, their insurance will likely pay first. Your coverage may have to pay some amount, however.
- Non-Permissive Use by an Uninsured Friend: If your car is taken without your permission by an uninsured friend and crashes, you will be held liable.
If You Plan to Lend Out Your Vehicle to Someone
The best way to avoid risk and liability is to not lend out your vehicle to others. However, while never loaning your car to another might be sensible, legally speaking, it’s hardly neighborly. There are times where we’ve all needed a helping hand, and it’s only natural to want to help out your friends/family in turn.
If you’re thinking about lending out the use of your car, truck, or SUV to someone, please exercise all due caution. Take care to judge the situation using what you know about the person—and NEVER loan your vehicle to someone who’s intoxicated or doesn’t have a license.
Should you be uncomfortable offering the use of your vehicle to a friend or family member, consider giving them a ride if your schedule allows. By being behind the wheel yourself, you eliminate the concern of what might happen if that other person gets into an accident.
For example, if a friend needs to borrow your truck to pick up furniture, why not drive with him to the store for the pickup? Odds are, they’ll need a second person to help safely load/unload the furniture anyways.
Of course, no matter how careful you are, how reliable your friends and family are, accidents can happen regardless. If your car is involved in an auto accident, then you, as the vehicle owner, may be held liable for any damages—whether you’re behind the wheel or not.
If you or a loved one is involved in an accident, after you get the appropriate medical attention, be sure to contact an experienced auto accident attorney for assistance. Lowman Law Firm’s attorneys bring their skills, experience, and compassion to every auto accident injury case. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help get you the compensation you deserve.