Who Bears Liability for an Accident: The Car Owner or Driver?

You got into a serious accident with a driver who got behind the wheel of someone else’s vehicle. Now, you need to file a car accident claim. Before you can file a claim, however, you need to know whose insurance you need to file through. Should you file through the driver’s insurance, or the owner’s? How do you know who bears liability for the accident?

Coverage Offered by Insurance Policies

Insurance policies may vary depending on the type of coverage carried by both the vehicle owner and the driver.

Liability Coverage

Liability coverage offers compensation anytime one driver hits another driver’s car and causes substantial damage to it. It does not cover repairs to the vehicle of the liable driver, but will pay for damages to the other driver’s car.

Often, liability coverage follows the driver. That means that the driver has coverage for damage caused by their actions behind the wheel, regardless of what vehicle they drive. The driver’s insurance may cover damages caused by an accident in an otherwise uninsured vehicle.

Collision Coverage

Collision coverage typically follows the vehicle, not the driver. That means that collision coverage will kick in any time a driver who has permission to drive the vehicle gets into an accident. Collision coverage not only offers coverage for the other driver’s vehicle, it will provide much-needed coverage for the vehicle of the driver that caused the accident. The vehicle’s owner can get their vehicle fixed through their collision coverage regardless of who drove it.

However, some insurance policies may not include coverage when an uninsured driver gets into an accident, including one who is not a member of the liable driver’s household.

Challenges with Collision and Liability Coverage

After a car accident, you may have more problems than anticipated getting coverage for damages to your vehicle when a driver who does not own the vehicle drives it. Talk to an attorney about these potential challenges that could make it difficult for you to get coverage for your vehicle and your injuries after an accident.

1. Some Collision Policies May Not Cover a Liable Driver Not Named on the Policy.

Some insurance policies will only offer coverage for drivers actually named on the policy. Most of the time, coverage extends to all members of the vehicle owner’s household. However, that coverage may not extend to drivers outside the household, including friends, parents, or adult children who do not live in the household.

After an accident involving a driver who does not own the vehicle, you may need an attorney to review the terms of the insurance policy to determine whether that driver has coverage in that vehicle.

2. Liability Coverage Does Not Always Offer Coverage, No Matter What Vehicle the Driver Operates.

In some cases, the driver’s liability insurance policy may kick in and offer coverage for any damages caused by the driver. However, liability insurance will not always offer coverage regardless of what vehicle the driver operates. An experienced attorney can review the policy to get a better idea of what coverage the driver has and under what circumstances.

3. Collision Coverage Will Not Cover a Driver Who Does Not Have Permission to Use the Vehicle.

If someone steals a vehicle and causes an accident while in it, that driver will not have coverage under the terms of the policy. This may include someone who “borrows” a vehicle without permission from the owner, which legally counts as stealing.

Suppose, for example, that the owner knows that the vehicle does not have good brakes, and does not allow anyone to drive it. An acquaintance of the owner, on the other hand, takes the vehicle anyway. In that case, the liable driver would not have coverage under the owner’s insurance policy. Likewise, someone who directly steals a vehicle and takes it for a joyride would not have coverage under the owner’s insurance policy. Thieves may also fail to carry their own insurance, which could leave you dealing with an uninsured driver after an accident.

Circumstances Under Which the Owner May Bear Liability

In some cases, even if the driver has permission to drive the vehicle and has coverage under their own insurance policy, the owner may bear liability for an accident. The owner may bear liability for an act of negligence that leads to an accident.

Suppose, for example, that the owner of the vehicle knows that the vehicle has old, balding tires. Those tires no longer offer the degree of safety needed to hold the car to the road and provide a safe driving experience. However, the owner allows someone else to take the vehicle anyway, without warning about the potential danger. The owner might bear liability for failing to properly maintain the vehicle.

The owner may also bear liability if they work on the car themself, but fail to repair it properly. Using a professional mechanic can increase the odds that the car will get put back together properly. When the vehicle owner does the work himself or herself, they may cut corners to save costs, which may render the vehicle unsafe. The owner may then bear liability for the conditions that led to the accident, and therefore bear a higher level of liability for the accident itself.

What Can You Do About Disputed Liability Between Car Owner and Driver?

As the victim of an accident involving a driver who does not own the vehicle, you may deserve compensation for your injuries. Unfortunately, you might end up caught in the battle between insurance companies. On one side, you may have an insurance company that claims the policy that covers the vehicle should provide compensation for the accident, including compensation for your injuries. On the other side, you may have an insurance company claiming that the insurance policy carried by the driver of the vehicle should provide compensation for your injuries and damage to your vehicle.

What can you do?

1. Your Personal Injury Protection Coverage Would Offer Immediate Compensation for Your Medical Bills Regardless of Who Caused Your Accident or Who Bears Liability.

PIP insurance, also known as personal injury protection insurance, offers immediate compensation for your medical bills up to the coverage maximum on the policy you chose, minus the amount of your deductible. Both New York and New Jersey require their drivers to carry personal injury protection insurance along with liability coverage.

Personal injury protection helps accident victims get coverage and compensation for their injuries regardless of who caused an accident. That coverage can prevent you from getting caught in a battle with the insurance companies that should provide much-needed compensation after the accident and help ensure that you can get immediate medical treatment for your injuries. It can also provide some coverage for lost wages related to your injuries, depending on the coverage you carry. You should use your PIP coverage immediately after the accident.

2. Get in Touch With an Attorney Who Can Go Over the Specific Wording on All Relevant Insurance Policies.

As the victim of the accident, you should not have to worry about fighting for the compensation you deserve for your injuries. Having an experienced car accident attorney on your side can make a big difference in your claim, especially if you have a situation that causes a dispute between two insurance companies.

An attorney can go over the details of all relevant insurance policies and take a look at which insurance company or policy should protect you under the terms of those policies. In some cases, the attorney may determine that you have the right to claim compensation under both the driver’s liability policy and the policy that covers a specific vehicle. If so, you can claim compensation up to the limits of the primary insurance policy, whether the liable driver’s policy or the owner’s policy, and any additional damages from the secondary insurance policy. In many cases, this can increase the overall compensation you receive for your injuries.

Any time you find yourself facing complex negotiations between insurance companies as part of your accident claim, get in touch with an experienced car accident lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer can help you understand your right to compensation and prevent many headaches that may go along with dealing with a car accident claim, especially one that involves legal complexities.

3. You Can Choose to Use Your Collision Coverage to Cover Damage to Your Vehicle.

While the insurance companies bicker over which policy should provide payment for your losses, you cannot move forward with repairs to your vehicle. You may have a hard time getting an appraisal, much less approval to begin repairs. In some cases, you may need your vehicle back quickly. To improve your odds of a fast resolution to your claim, talk to your attorney about whether you should consider using your personal collision coverage for repairs to your vehicle. Using your personal collision coverage may mean that you have to pay your deductible, but you may ultimately get those funds back.

Your collision coverage may not help with your medical expenses and the other financial challenges you face, but it can help you get back on the road faster. If you need your vehicle to get you to medical appointments or to get to work, you may find it more practical to make arrangements to get the vehicle repaired as soon as possible.

Using your collision insurance does not cause you to accept liability for the accident. It may, however, cause your insurance rates to go up temporarily after the accident. Talk to your insurance agent and your attorney about what you can do to get yourself back on the road sooner.

4. Look Into Your Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage.

Sometimes, you may have an accident with a driver who simply does not have insurance on that vehicle at the time of the accident. Perhaps you had an accident with a thief who stole the vehicle, either directly or inadvertently. In other cases, you may have an accident with a driver who did not realize that they did not have coverage on that vehicle, usually due to the wording on both their policy and the wording on the owner’s policy.

You may still have options for seeking compensation for damage to your vehicle and injuries you sustained during the accident.

  • Andrew Finkelstein Jacoby & Meyers LLP

    Auto Accident Lawyer, Andrew Finkelstein

    Uninsured motorist coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage kicks in when the driver who causes the accident with your vehicle does not carry insurance at all—or, in the case of a dispute between liable parties, does not carry insurance that offers protection for that specific driver on that vehicle. Most auto insurance policies include uninsured motorist coverage to help protect accident victims.

  • Underinsured motorist coverage. Underinsured motorist coverage offers protection when the driver who hits you does not carry adequate insurance. If, for example, the driver who hits you only carries liability insurance, but the repair cost of your vehicle costs more than that driver’s liability policy, your underinsured motorist coverage can help with its replacement cost.

If you suffer injuries in an accident with a driver who does not own the vehicle, or if you have trouble getting the compensation you need for damages to your vehicle due to an insurance dispute, an attorney can help wade through the insurance paperwork and give you a better idea of your rights.

Contact an experienced car accident attorney to learn more about your right to compensation and who may bear liability after an accident in this type of complex situation.