Written on May 18, 2018 3:33:14 PM
Vehicle Theft and Your Liability (Plus 7 Ways to Prevent Theft)
Topics: auto insurance policy, liability, vehicle theft
A friend of mine once left an all-day shopping spree at the mall, and upon leaving, couldn’t find her car. Despite being saddled with the weight of numerous shopping bags, she wandered the parking lot for hours thinking she’d forgotten where she had parked. Maybe you’ve done this yourself; walking up and down rows upon rows of vehicles, pressing the alarm button on your car remote hoping it would honk back at you.
That often works, but unfortunately for her, all it did was add thousands of steps to her pedometer app. Turns out she hadn’t forgotten where she’d parked at all; her car had been stolen.
Of course, she’s not the first person this has happened to, but that’s of little comfort when you’re the victim of vehicle theft. More than likely, your first thoughts may be, how am I going to get to work? How am I going to get the kids to school? And am I liable for any damages the criminal may cause using my vehicle?
Before we dive into liability, let’s take a look at vehicle theft in the United States. While many of us think it’s the cherry red Corvette or the sleek new Jaguar that criminals are after, that’s generally not the case. For one, criminals know these vehicles are usually outfitted with the best crime-prevention devices. Plus, flashy vehicles get a lot of attention, and can quickly catch the eye of law enforcement. Most thieves want to fly under the radar, so their most coveted vehicles are usually those that are more prevalent on the road.
Of the over 765,000 vehicles stolen in the United States in 2016, here are the top five most taken according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
This was the answer you came here for, and the answer is no, you are not liable. However, you do have certain responsibilities to fulfill in the event of a theft in order to remain that way, and that entails notifying the police immediately. There have been many cases in Florida and throughout the country in which drunk drivers, drag racers, and others engaging in unsafe driving have had crashes, only to leave the scene and later (after sobering up or tending to wounds) claim the vehicle had been stolen. While this ploy rarely, if ever, works, a delay in reporting a theft even if you’re innocent could still raise eyebrows and make you look like the guilty party. However, if you’ve not engaged in any wrongdoing, it’s unlikely you’d hesitate to report a theft… unless perhaps it was family.
Theft From Family
This is a quagmire that deserves its own story, and we’ll expand upon it in a follow-up post. But, to make a long story short (and not delve into intricacies here), if the family member does not live with you and you claim theft, you will not be liable for damages, though it’s possible they could try to contest it in court. Waters get more muddied, however, if the family member lives with you. Unless you’ve specifically excluded live-in family from your driving policy, it can be difficult to prove the vehicle was taken without permission, potentially leaving you on the hook for damages or injury.
Theft Insurance Coverage
This all depends on your insurance company and the policy you hold with them. While the law will not hold you responsible for the criminal’s actions in the above scenarios, that doesn’t mean your insurance company is going to reimburse you for vehicle damage they may have caused or pay out the value of the vehicle if it is beyond repair. There is a misconception that “comprehensive coverage” offers just that, but this is not always the case. Be sure to speak with your insurance provider about theft coverage—especially if you own one of those top five stolen vehicles (see, there was a reason I provided that information!)
The Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine
This Florida law has come up with clients numerous times following a vehicle theft. The law states that as the owner of a vehicle, you have a responsibility to ensure your vehicle, AKA the dangerous instrument, is safe. If you’ve given permission to someone to drive your vehicle knowing it is unsafe to drive, you can be liable for damages. But, no one gives permission to a thief, so this does not apply in stolen vehicle cases.
Seven Ways to Prevent Theft
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Following these seven measures can help greatly reduce the chance of vehicle theft.
- Install a security system. They’re much more advanced today than the annoying ones of the 90s and 00s that everyone hated—and ignored.
- Park beneath overhead lights. In parking lots, lights deter thieves (and it’s also safer for you).
- Ride-share. Nightclubs and other late-night venues are notorious for vehicle theft; consider leaving your car at home and taking a cab or an Uber (if you’re drinking, it could save you from a DUI, too).
- Lock up and take the keys. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s all too common to leave our vehicles unlocked and even the keys in the ignition.
- Never say “I’ll just be a minute.” When popping into a convenience store or gas station we may leave the car running, providing the perfect opportunity for thieves. That’s how this Florida man was able to drive off with a baby on board (also, don’t leave babies on board).
- Use your garage. If it’s become a work or storage space, consider making room for your vehicle. Many cars have been quietly rolled from driveways, then started up on the street and driven away.
- Install a tracking device. These systems combine GPS and wireless technologies to emit a signal to the police or a monitoring station when the vehicle is reported stolen.
Vehicle theft can happen anytime, anywhere. Knowing how to prevent such a situation, and what to do following an event, can help keep you aware and in-the-know. But ultimately, their crime is not going to be on your dime.