Who is Liable in a Car Accident: the Owner or the Driver?

After an accident, victims may wonder, “who is liable in a car accident: the owner or the driver?” If a person loans his or her car to someone such as a relative, friend, or a designated driver, and the driver gets in an accident, the owner may be liable for any fatalities, injuries, or damages.

Chicago, IL - Fatal Pedestrian Collision Occurs on DuSable Lake Shore Dr

A motorist who is not the owner can drive someone else’s car for a variety of reasons. For example, a parent may loan his or her car to a teenage son or daughter, who then gets involved in a traffic accident.  An employee, driving the employer’s vehicle in the course of business, may crash into another car.  In both cases, the owner and employer may incur liability.

This is particularly true if there was any negligence involved on the part of the driver. Legally, this is known as “vicarious liability.” Reversing the situation, if a person is hit by a driver who is not the owner of a vehicle, the person hit has legal rights to recover damages and should work with a car accident attorney to explore the possible sources of liability.

Permissive Use Car Insurance

When the driver who is not the owner of the car has an accident, the owner needs to understand how his or her insurance covers the damages incurred. The general rule for establishing coverage is that anyone living in the same household is covered when driving the owner’s car.

This is because car insurance follows the vehicle, rather than the driver.  If an owner loans his or her car to a relative or a friend who does not live with him or her, “permissive use” applies, and the driver will be covered by the owner’s policy.

What Qualifies as Non-Permissive Use?

Under cases of non-permissive use, the owner is not always solely liable for damages. In an accident, non-permissive use applies when:

  • Someone takes the owner’s car without permission. Under these circumstances, the driver’s coverage would most likely be primary, while the owner’s would be secondary in regard to covering damages.
  • If an uninsured person takes the owner’s car without permission, the owner’s insurance would pay for any damages incurred.
  • If someone steals the owner’s car, the owner won’t be liable for any injuries or damages to the other vehicle; however, damage to the owner’s vehicle would most likely be covered by the owner’s insurance.

When Does a Negligent Entrustment Action Apply?

Negligent entrustment applies when the owner of a “dangerous article” authorizes the use of such equipment to a person who is likely to cause unreasonable risk or harm to others through its use. In this instance, the “dangerous article” would be a car, and the predicable risk factors could include an impaired driver, a driver who has not obtained or is not eligible for a license, or a driver whose license is revoked due to moving violations. If negligent entrustment occurs, and the driver wrecks the vehicle, then the owner can be held liable for both the accident and his or her negligence.

Is the Registered Owner of a Car Liable for an Accident?

An owner can be liable when: 1) he or she allows an unlicensed driver to operate the vehicle; 2) he or she allows an impaired driver to operate the vehicle; and 3) a driver who is excluded on the car insurance policy gets into an accident.

An owner needs to understand the coverage of his or her automobile insurance policy. When liability is unclear regarding an accident, the owner may need to consult with a car accident attorney.

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Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.

Years of Experience: More than 30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois
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