Some car accidents may involve vehicles with drivers who don’t own them. Often, vehicle owners may allow their friends to drive in certain situations. If these friends get into an accident, liability generally falls on the vehicle owner, but there are some circumstances when this might not be the case.
If you or someone else operates a friend’s vehicle and gets into a car accident, it’s essential to consult with a car accident lawyer and know what to expect in these situations regarding insurance claims.
Who Is Liable in a Car Accident Involving a Friend’s Car?
In most cases, if a driver gets involved in an accident while driving a friend’s car with the owner’s permission, the vehicle owner’s insurance company will cover the damages. Collision insurance covers these damages if you have this coverage. Liability insurance will pay for the damages other vehicles and parties sustain because of the accident, including injuries and vehicle damage.
While your insurance may likely cover the majority of damages resulting from an accident, some cases may involve more extensive injuries and other damages. In these instances, the driver who didn’t own the vehicle may be responsible for covering damages through their own insurance policies.
What Happens if a Friend Borrows a Car Without Permission?
Many accidents involve drivers who borrow their friends’ vehicles with the owner’s permission, known as “permissive use.” However, this isn’t always the case. Some accidents may involve a driver who operated the vehicle without the owner’s explicit permission. These cases involve “non-permissive use” that could lead the driver’s auto insurance to serve as the primary source of coverage.
In accidents involving non-permissive use, the vehicle owner’s insurance company may attempt to seek compensation from the driver’s insurer to cover the damages, even if the owner’s insurance policy limit is enough to cover all the damages.
If the driver doesn’t have insurance, the owner’s insurance may need to cover the damages to the owner’s vehicle and others involved in the accident.
When the Owner’s Insurance May Deny a Claim
In many cases, the vehicle owner’s insurance company may cover the damages resulting from an accident. Still, some situations may lead the owner’s insurer to deny a claim and refuse to cover damages.
This may occur when the vehicle driver breaks the law and causes an accident, such as when the driver operates the vehicle while impaired or texting. Generally, if the owner were aware that the friend was unfit to drive and still allowed this friend to operate their vehicle, the owner would still likely be liable for injuries and other damages resulting from an accident.
Other Potentially Liable Parties in Car Accidents
If someone gets into a car accident while driving a friend’s vehicle, there are some potential instances when another party may be liable. Some of the other potentially liable parties in these accidents could include:
Other drivers might be liable for an accident if they were negligent. They may fail to adhere to traffic laws, engage in distracted driving, or cause an accident through another type of irresponsible driving behavior. In these instances, they may be solely or partially liable for damages resulting from an accident.
Some drivers may cause accidents while operating a vehicle within the scope of their employment. For example, a delivery driver may run a red light and cause an accident while rushing to get to the destination on time. The driver’s employer may be liable for the accident and subsequent damages, depending on the circumstances.
Faulty parts or vehicles could also contribute to accidents by causing drivers to lose control of their vehicles. For instance, defective brakes may fail when the driver attempts to slow down or stop, resulting in an accident. Defective airbags could also deploy and prevent drivers from seeing the road ahead and steering the vehicle. Additionally, faulty vehicle designs could present certain safety risks.
Liability could fall on manufacturers if parts or vehicles have defective designs or construction.
Local and State Governments
Poor road conditions may present a variety of hazards for drivers on the road. These could include potholes, improper or inadequate signage, significant cracks, poor road design, and other issues that put people at risk. Local or state governments may be responsible for the resulting damages if these conditions contribute to an accident.
All types of road workers may also be liable for accidents and damages if they fail to make the road safe or clearly mark closed roadways. Maintenance crews, for example, may leave behind equipment and forget to put up signage warning drivers of road work in a designated area.
If you’re unsure who is liable for a car accident, a car accident attorney can help identify all parties who share liability.
When Someone Else Operates the Owner’s Vehicle Without Permission
Apart from friends, others may drive someone’s vehicle without the owner’s permission, which could make other parties liable in the event of an accident. These instances could include:
A Thief Steals the Vehicle
Thieves may steal vehicles and get into a collision, in which case the owner wouldn’t be responsible for any damages to other people or property. However, owners may need to cover damages to their own vehicles through insurance. The thief may have auto insurance, but their policy won’t be able to cover any damages because of the criminal nature of the case even if the authorities catch them.
An Excluded Driver Gets Into an Accident
Drivers not on the vehicle owner’s insurance policy may also operate a vehicle, including excluded drivers. These drivers are those the owner has specifically identified as excluded, such as minor children and others who don’t have permission to operate the vehicle. However, the owner will still be liable for damages to the owner’s vehicle and others.
What Damages Could Result from a Car Accident?
Following a car accident, victims may recover compensation for considerable damages based on the nature of the accident and the specific damages sustained. These damages could include a mix of economic and non-economic damages. In rare instances, punitive damages may also come into play to punish defendants who acted with gross negligence.
Knowing what damages resulted in an accident can help determine how much compensation the liable parties will need to pay.
Also known as special damages, economic damages are instances of property damage and injuries that result in specific costs. These could include medical expenses that individuals pay for treating injuries, physical therapy, lost income, lost earning capacity, property damage, and other types of financial loss.
Economic damages typically come with specific dollar amounts that make them relatively easy to calculate. However, cases involving extensive damages and many injured parties could make it more challenging to identify and quantify all of these damages.
Accident cases also frequently involve certain types of non-economic or general damages. These damages, while quantifiable, are less easy to calculate than economic damages because of their personal, subjective nature. They pertain to the level of pain and suffering that victims experience after an accident because of their injuries and losses.
Examples of non-economic damages in accident cases may include physical pain, mental anguish, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of companionship, and others.
While rare, punitive damages could also apply to a car accident case depending on its circumstances. While economic and non-economic damages are compensatory to help victims financially recover from an accident, punitive damages aim to punish defendants for egregious behavior. Drivers who acted with criminal negligence or other instances of gross negligence may need to cover these damages to make an example of them.
Insurance companies and insurers can calculate all damages resulting from an accident, with these damages potentially factoring into an insurance claim or lawsuit against negligent parties.
How Might No-Fault Laws Affect a Car Accident Case?
Some states, such as New York, use a no-fault insurance system. This means that in most cases, individuals will need to file a claim with their own insurance companies if they sustain injuries or other damages via personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage. This is the case regardless of who was at fault for the accident.
However, accidents may result in more extensive injuries and other types of damages that exceed PIP policy limits and warrant a claim or lawsuit against negligent parties.
What to Do After a Car Accident Involving a Driver Other Than the Owner
If a friend or someone else gets into an accident while driving another person’s vehicle, there are certain steps that vehicle owners should take following the accident. These steps include:
Know Your Coverage
Vehicle owners and drivers should have a good understanding of their insurance policies and what they cover. For example, a vehicle owner should determine whether they have liability, collision, and other coverage and determine the limits for those policies.
Gather as Much Documentation About the Accident as Possible
To help with insurance claims or lawsuits, collecting as much information about the accident as possible is vital to building a successful case. Evidence in these cases could include police reports, witness statements, photos and video footage of the accident, medical records, and more. An attorney can help you obtain all this documentation if you cannot get it alone.
Speak With an Attorney
Another critical step is to consult with an experienced car accident lawyer. These attorneys can provide a free consultation to discuss your case and the details involved. A lawyer will be able to help you determine whether the driver of the vehicle or another party was liable for the accident.
When negotiating with insurers, an attorney can guide you to ensure you avoid making the wrong statement or taking the wrong steps during the claims process.
Don’t Wait to File a Claim or Lawsuit
Following any type of car accident, you should avoid waiting too long if you intend to file an insurance claim or lawsuit. You may have a case against a negligent driver or another party liable for an accident, even if a friend or another driver operated your vehicle at the time of the accident.
However, you only have a limited amount of time to initiate a claim or lawsuit before you can seek compensation. This is the statute of limitations, which varies from state to state. In New York, for instance, the statute of limitations for car accident cases is three years after the accident. You usually have three years to file a lawsuit before the case expires, and you cannot utilize the court system to pursue recovery. However, there are certain exceptions to the statute, depending on the specific circumstances involved in the case. An experienced car accident attorney can advise you on how much time you have to file and if any exceptions apply.
Talk With an Attorney to Discuss a Case
If a friend or another party operates a vehicle without the owner’s permission and gets into an accident, speak with an attorney to discuss the case. A lawyer can help determine which parties were liable for the accident and calculate all damages involved. They will be able to discuss the options available to you regarding a claim or suit and get you started down the path to recovering the compensation you deserve.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.