Published On: Thu, Jun 17th, 2021

Who Is Liable In A Car Accident: The Owner or the Driver?

A car owner may loan their vehicle to a friend, coworker, or a family member. If the person who is driving the car is then involved in a car accident, you may be left wondering who is liable for the damages suffered in the crash. Does the responsibility fall on the driver or the owner? After all, when you pursue a personal injury claim to recover your damages, you will want to make sure you pursue your damages from the right person.

The California Vehicle Code states that the owner of a vehicle is responsible for the damages caused during the vehicle’s operation even if there is someone else operating the car with either expressed or implied permission of the owner. 

Automobile insurance stays with the vehicle and does not follow the driver. So, when you get insurance on your vehicle, you are doing just that. You are insuring the car and not yourself, so the car is protected. That insurance coverage does not follow along with you when you are driving someone else’s vehicle. Instead, if you are operating someone else’s car, it is covered by their insurance. 

crashed car scene of accident

Photo by Michael Jin on Unsplash

Defining The Owner’s Liability 

While the owner of the vehicle is liable, the owner’s liability is limited. According to California law, the owner is liable for damages and losses up to $15,000 per person for death or bodily injury, up to $30,000 per accident for death or personal injury, and up to $5,000 for property damage claims. 

In some cases, there could be an exception that leads to the owner becoming fully liable for all the damages. That would be the case if the owner of the vehicle allowed an incompetent driver or an unlicensed driver use their vehicle, then the vehicle owner could be held liable for all the damages in the crash. An incompetent driver could be intoxicated, someone with a history of reckless driving, or an elderly driver who is known to have difficulty behind the wheel.

If there is not an exception, and the damages sustained in the crash exceed the limits set for the owner of the vehicle, then the rest of the damages would be claimed through the driver’s policy limits. This means an accident victim could have two insurance claims against two individuals from a single car crash. 

Regardless of how much money the owner has, or the value of his assets, the maximum amount of liability is the same and is a small amount, which is in many cases not enough to cover the damages or injuries suffered from a crash. Thus, two claims are often common in pursuing a claim after an auto accident that involved a driver who is not the owner of the vehicle. 

California is a pure comparative negligence state. That means that unless one party is 100% responsible for the pedestrian accident, the involved parties will share a portion of fault. That shared liability will then help determine any monetary damages that are paid to the victim.

Pursuing A Claim After A Car Crash When The Driver Is Not The Vehicle Owner 

Pursuing an insurance claim after a car crash should be similar regardless of whether the operator also owned the vehicle or whether the vehicle owner and driver are two separate people. There could, however, be complications when you are pursuing an insurance claim when the owner of the vehicle is not the same as the driver of the vehicle. 

The auto insurance companies could argue about liability, and even more so if an exception comes into play. “The insurance company for the car owner may dispute liability regarding what caused the accident to avoid paying anything out on the claim,” says North Hollywood car accident attorney Samuel Dordulian. Supporting evidence and documentation are essential to the success of any personal injury claim after an auto accident in California. 

You will need a copy of the accident report, statements from witnesses, proof of damages, medical records, medical bills, proof of missed work and lost wages, photos of the accident scene, and so forth. You will need to prove that the other party’s negligence caused your accident and led to your damages. 

Getting Your Claim Underway

A personal injury claim after an accident that involved a vehicle that was not driven by its owner can be even more complicated than a basic personal injury claim. You may have two claims underway at the same time. Since you could be facing double claims and more complexity, you should enlist the help of an experienced personal injury lawyer. 

Knowledgeable personal injury attorneys will make sure your claim is filed in a timely manner and that supporting documentation and evidence are gathered for your claim.

Author: David Davtian

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