Want to know what happens if someone else is driving my car and gets in an accident? Read below.
Most of these cases involve young teen drivers. People under 18 cannot own property. Therefore, even if Susie drives a car full-time, “her” car legally belongs to someone else. Sometimes, lawyers also handle roommate or spouse cases (e.g. Frank borrows Al’s car or Husband borrows Wife’s car).
A surprising number of cases involve U-Haul trucks. When fully loaded, these vehicles weigh about 25,000 pounds . However, the federal Graves Amendment greatly complicates these cases. So, we won’t open that can of worms in this post.
The issues are the same in all states. Most auto insurance policies are driver-specific. If someone not listed on the policy is behind the wheel, that driver is effectively uninsured. Laws are different in different jurisdictions. Some states properly allow crash victims to hold owners responsible for compensation. Other states take the opposite approach. The tortfeasor (negligent driver) caused the accident, so the tortfeasor should be responsible for it, at least in most cases.
All states, even those which insist on driver-only responsibility, recognize this legal doctrine. Owners are responsible for damages if they knowingly permit incompetent drivers to operate their vehicles, and these drivers cause wrecks. Evidence of incompetence includes:
- No drivers’ license,
- Safety-suspended drivers’ license,
- Poor driving record with recent safety-related suspensions,
- Driving at night or violating another license restriction,
- Poor driving record with recent at-fault collisions, and
- Recent moving violations.
This evidence is basically in descending order. At the top, unlicensed drivers are usually incompetent as a matter of law, even if they’ve been driving for years. At the bottom, a speeding ticket or two, by itself, probably doesn’t establish incompetence.
Note that any suspensions must be safety-related suspensions. Most states allow numerous administrative suspensions. Bureaucrats can take away drivers’ licenses for things like nonpayment of child support or state taxes.
In court, victims must prove permission, incompetence, and knowledge by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
Most state courts use some variation of the family purpose doctrine. Basically, this doctrine makes negligent entrustment cases easier to prove in court. This law presumes that if a household member used a vehicle for a family purpose, the owner gave the user permission. So, victims in family purpose doctrine states must only prove driver incompetence and owner knowledge of that incompetence.
What is a “family purpose?” The answer to this question varies in different states, and even among different judges in the same state.
Assume Dad lets Junior use his car to pick up Sally from soccer practice. If Junior goes straight to the practice field and straight home, which isn’t very likely, the family purpose doctrine clearly applies. If Junior stops to get Sally an ice cream cone, that’s probably still a family purpose. If Junior drops off Sally at home and then goes joyriding with his friends, that may not be a family purpose.
In Legalese, this phrase means “on the hook for damages.” A few states have strong vicarious liability laws. These few states are Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, California, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia. Victims in borrowed vehicle crash claims in these jurisdictions don’t have to prove permission, incompetence, or knowledge. They must only prove driver negligence, or a lack of care.