Written on Apr 21, 2022 4:58:14 PM
What Happens if Someone Else Is Driving My Car and Gets in an Accident?
Topics: auto insurance, auto accident, liability
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?” Of course, most people have loaned a vehicle to a family member or friend at some point in their driving lives. Maybe your sister’s car is in the shop or your neighbor needs to borrow your truck to pick up his new home theater system. You hand over the keys and a few minutes later you get a call that they were involved in a car accident and it was their fault. So, what happens if someone else crashes your car?
Well, once you learn that everyone appears to be okay, you call your auto insurance company and report the claim. In a few days, your car or truck is repaired and you don’t think about it again until six months later when you are served with a Complaint because the person your sister or neighbor hit is suing you. You ask yourself, why am I being sued? I wasn’t driving – I wasn't even there!
Am I Responsible for a Car Accident if I Wasn’t Driving My Car?
We get this question a lot, and ultimately yes, if someone crashes your car, as the owner of what is considered an “inherently dangerous tool” you are responsible for any damages or injuries. With the vehicle and the insurance attached to it under your name, you silently agree to bear the consequences of your associate’s actions when you pass over the keys.
Think of it this way: You own a dog and you ask your neighbor to walk it for you while you run errands. Unfortunately, for circumstances that you weren’t around to help influence, the dog bites a jogger. Even though you were not present, it is still your dog. You’ll be expected to deal with the fallout, from disciplining your pet to paying for injuries the jogger may have sustained.
In both scenarios, your friend can be found liable as well, but the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine mandates that you take primary responsibility in the case of an accident.
Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine
Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine (DID), a legal concept also known as vicarious liability, specifies that a person is strictly liable for the injuries that result from negligent operation of their vehicle by a person to whom he or she granted custody or operation. The idea is that a motor vehicle is a dangerous instrument and when you allow someone else to operate your vehicle, you are responsible for its use.
The principle is intended to protect the person that was injured because the owner of the vehicle would be in a position to obtain insurance for the motor vehicle. It ensures the victim gets assistance in getting the recovery that they are entitled to.
Depending on insurance policies, the driver’s insurance acts as secondary coverage according to DMV.org. Having a solid understanding of your insurance policy and obtaining appropriate coverage can make the process a lot easier. Before offering consent to someone to use your vehicle, make sure you understand what you can expect if they have an accident on the road.
7 Variables Affecting Liability & Insurance in an Accident Not Involving You
When your car causes a 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. These variables include:
1. Permissive vs. Non-Permissive Use
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 friend takes your car without your knowledge, or a stranger steals your vehicle, you’re not typically liable for any damages to the property of others as permission was not given (you’d still have to pay for any damages to your own vehicle using your insurance, however).
2. Borrower’s 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. Always 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.
3. Who’s at 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.
4. Driver 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.
5. 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.
6. Lending Your Car to a Dangerous Driver
If you lend your vehicle to an intoxicated driver, you could be held liable and sued for personal damages. Never allow an intoxicated driver to use your vehicle; not only could you wind up shelling out money for an accident, but even worse, the accident could result in someone’s death. So, what happens if an unlicensed driver crashes your car? Same: You will likely be held liable if it was permissive use.
7. Valet Accidents
Businesses are generally not liable for damage that occurs to your car once you hand it over (the ticket you receive will probably state this as well). However, if a valet driver causes an accident because he or she did not “exercise the reasonable standard of care in driving your car,” the business could still be held responsible but it will have to be proven that the valet driver was at fault.
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.
Does Insurance Follow the Car or Driver in Florida?
It may be commonly thought that car insurance follows the driver, but it does not with one exception. 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.
To summarize: The types of car insurance that follow the car in Florida are collision, comprehensive, and property damage liability. Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, which you're required to carry in Florida, follows the driver.
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 what 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 expect to give permissive use of your vehicle to someone frequently, be sure to ask “Can someone drive my car and be covered on my insurance?” It is a good way to protect yourself from out-of-pocket expenses if there is an accident.
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.
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 when 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. Or, you could always suggest they take an Uber or Lyft. If they’re short on cash and you still want to help, consider paying for the ride; the $20 you spend on that will be far less than what it might cost you in vehicle repair if your friend gets into an accident with your car.
Did Someone Cause an Auto Accident While Using Your Vehicle?
Can you let someone else drive your car? Of course – but we don’t recommend it. No matter how careful you are with loaning your vehicle, and no matter 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. Our auto accident attorneys serve all of Florida, with offices in Citrus County, Hernando County, Hillsborough County, and Pasco County. Not able to come to us? We’ll come to you! We offer free home and hospital consultations. And, there’s never a fee until you win your case.