Getting into a car accident in a friend’s car: who is liable? The car owner or the driver?

May 10, 2024 | By Francis Firm Injury Attorneys
Getting into a car accident in a friend’s car: who is liable? The car owner or the driver?

Getting into a car accident can be a stressful experience, especially if you are a passenger in a borrowed car. If you find yourself in this situation, you may wonder who is liable for the damages and injuries. Is it the car owner or the driver? The answer to this question depends on several factors, and you should never wait to consult a car accident attorney.

In most car accidents, both drivers own their respective vehicles. Even though the case itself may be complex, the rules are relatively straightforward: The driver who was to blame for the accident is the one who must pay the other for their injuries. However, in some situations, there are questions about who must pay when one of the drivers borrows the car. The rule is that liability insurance follows the driver, no matter which car they are driving.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury in a crash, you need legal help today. One of the first calls you should make is to an experienced Dallas car accident lawyer who will fight for you to receive total compensation for your injuries. An attorney can do the legwork in preparing your claim, and they will stand up for you when the insurance company tries to push you around. You can confidently hire an attorney, knowing they will not charge you anything from your pocket to pay for their services.

You may wonder if an insurance policy covers the car or the driver. Usually, insurance covers the car's owners, family members on the policy, and anyone else driving the vehicle with the owner's permission. Sometimes, the answer is not always cut and dry; it often depends on the coverage type.

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Types of Available Coverage in Car Insurance Policies

Creating a visual concept of car insurance with a calculator on a wooden table can be an engaging and relatable way to depict financial planning and decision-making.

In a car accident case, every type of coverage is essential. There are usually the following types of coverage that may be a part of an insurance policy:

  • Liability insurance covers property damage and bodily injury that the driver causes to other people involved in the accident.
  • Uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage pays for accident damages when another driver does not have insurance or does not have enough coverage.
  • Comprehensive coverage pays for damage to a car caused by theft, vandalism, or natural disaster.
  • Collision damage pays for damage to the car sustained in an accident.
  • Medical payment coverage pays for healthcare costs after an accident (if the other driver were to blame for the accident, they would need to pay for your medical bills).

Does Liability Insurance Follow the Driver Wherever They Drive?

Liability insurance covers the significant car accident damages a driver can cause through negligence. If a driver or passenger has suffered tens of thousands of dollars in damage in a crash, payment will likely come from the responsible driver's liability insurance.

Here, the most critical question is whether the liability insurance follows the car's driver or the vehicle itself. Liability insurance will follow the driver of the car, and their own insurance policy will cover the damage they caused, no matter which car they were driving. The car's owner may not be responsible for someone else's actions while driving the vehicle. For example, if a driver was behind the wheel of a rental car at the time of the accident, the rental car company will not be to blame for the accident, and the driver's insurance will pick up the tab for the accident damages. The important thing is that the accident victim has some insurance policy against which to file a claim if they suffered an injury in an accident.

Other forms of coverage, such as collision, may remain with the car instead of the driver. However, the insurance company may balk at covering damages from an accident caused by someone who regularly drives the car but is not listed on the policy. Usually, a car's owner must list the drivers the policy covers. This way, the insurance company can appropriately price the risk and adjust the policy price accordingly. For example, if the car's owner has a teenage child who regularly drives the vehicle, they must be listed on the policy. Given the risks of a teenage driver behind the wheel, the owner will need to pay more for their policy.

Can An Injured Driver Ever Sue the Owner of the Car?

Each insurance policy has a coverage limit. For example, the owner may have paid up to $300,000 in coverage for bodily injury per accident. The question is who must pay for the damages if they exceed the policy limit. The car's driver may be liable, but there may be other reasons why you can go after the car's owner. For example, they may have lent an unsafe vehicle to a driver.

There are several theories that an injured driver or their passenger may use to sue the car's owner.

Negligent Entrustment

The car owner cannot lend their vehicle to just anyone. For example, if they let someone borrow their car, and they knew this person was a terrible or risky driver, they can be liable. If the car's owner lets someone have the keys they saw drinking beforehand, they can also be responsible for the accident. The same thing goes if the owner lent the car to someone who did not have a license.

To prove negligent entrustment, one needs to demonstrate the following elements:

  • A car's owner loaned or otherwise made their vehicle available to another driver.
  • The owner knew that the driver would use the car in a manner that would cause harm to other people.
  • The driver of the car was negligent in the operation of the vehicle.

There may be some shared liability between the car's owner and driver. The owner can have their own negligence in allowing the driver behind the wheel. At the same time, the motorist also bears the blame for the accident itself. There is a chance that both the driver and the owner may need to pay some of the accident victim's damages.

Issues of liability can get complicated quickly, and a car accident attorney should always decipher who should be responsible.

Capturing the scene of a young woman standing near a broken-down car outdoors can evoke a range of emotions and narratives.

Even if someone did not technically steal the car, there may be questions about whether the owner actually lent the vehicle to someone else. The driver may have assumed that they had permission to take the car. However, an assumption may differ from the owner telling the driver they can take the car. Thus, when it comes to negligent entrustment, the owner will need to make an affirmative statement that it is ok for them to borrow their vehicle. There can also be implied consent, where the facts and circumstances of the situation give rise to the idea that the borrower had permission.

Negligent Maintenance of the Vehicle

The vehicle's owner has a legal obligation to inspect and maintain the car. They must keep it in reasonable condition and roadworthy at all times. If defective brakes caused the accident after the owner failed to maintain the car properly, they can be liable for the accident.

In negligence maintenance cases, it does not matter that someone other than the owner was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. The owner has the obligation to maintain the car. They need to do things like check the brakes, change the oil, and handle any other maintenance issues that arise. Sometimes, the repair shop may be liable when they do not reasonably perform their work on the car.

Agency Theories and Borrowed Cars

A relationship between the owner of the car and the driver can make the owner legally responsible for what the driver does. If the car's owner was also the driver's employer, they may be responsible for the accident under the theory of agency. An employer and employee are the same entity for purposes of liability. Anything the employee does within the scope of their duties falls onto the employer. It is in the injured driver's legal interest to sue an employer because more money is available for the injuries. The employer has more insurance coverage and assets that can lead to a larger settlement.

The Rule of Negligence Applies to Every Car Accident

If you have been in an accident in which you were in a borrowed car and the other driver was liable for the accident, you will still get financial compensation. The rules of negligence apply to any car accident, regardless of whether the driver owned the car. The insurance companies will still determine who was to blame for the accident, and the responsible driver must pay.

If you were in an accident with the driver of a borrowed car, you should contact an experienced attorney to learn more about your legal options. Your attorney will investigate the accident and compile evidence to help you prove who was to blame for the accident. Then, they can navigate the complex liability issues and determine the insurance against which you can file a claim.

The Driver's Own Underinsured Coverage May Come Into Play

When insurance coverage is uncertain, you may need to file a claim against your uninsured or underinsured motorist policy. Hopefully, you took advantage of the opportunity to purchase this coverage since your state must offer it under state law. Then, your insurance company will pick up the tab, assuming you can prove that the other driver was to blame for the accident. Even when dealing with your own insurance company, you will still need to battle for every dollar you get because no for-profit business likes to write checks.

Call a Lawyer Immediately After the Car Accident

The imagery of a "hammer of the judge" in the context of two collided cars suggests a scene of authority and consequence amidst the aftermath of a car accident.

The time to hire an attorney is as soon as possible after the accident. Insurance companies may try to open the legal process by talking to you about the accident. You need an attorney to act as a buffer to avoid making a mistake that costs you money. The insurance company may try to take your words out of context, regardless of whether it involves liability or the extent of your injuries. Your lawyer must go to work immediately to build and protect your legal rights.

One of the most important things you will get from the initial consultation with an attorney is peace of mind. There is one less thing you need to worry about when an experienced professional is handling the details of your claim and doing the heavy lifting. Hiring a lawyer can ease your burden.

You Do Not Have to Pay Out of Pocket for a Car Accident Lawyer

Money is never a concern when it comes to hiring a lawyer, no matter how stretched you think your finances are. Hourly charges simply do not apply when you have a car accident case. You only need to learn how the contingency fee system works, where you only pay your attorney if and when you win your case. Until then, you do not owe your lawyer a dime for their time and work. If you do not win your case, your lawyer has worked for you for free, no matter how much time they have worked on your legal matter.

Determining liability in a car accident involving a friend's car can be complicated. While the driver is typically responsible for any damages or injuries, the car owner may also be held liable under certain circumstances. It's important to consult a Dallas personal injury attorney experienced in personal injury cases to understand your rights and responsibilities in this situation.

A lawyer who understands car accident liability can gather evidence, analyze police reports, consult with accident reconstruction experts, and interview key witnesses to build a strong case on your behalf. They will also negotiate with insurance companies to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve for medical expenses, property damage, lost income, and pain and suffering.

Don't face the challenges of car accident liability alone – seek the knowledge of a qualified attorneys at the Francis Firm to guide you through the process and advocate for your best interests.

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