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Who Is Liable – Car Owner or Driver?

Getting in a car accident is a scary experience and one that can cause a lot of confusion and chaos as you try to sort out who might be at fault and liable for your losses. For example, as the victim in a car accident, you may not initially know the specifics of who owns the car involved and what insurance coverage applies. This can make it challenging to know who to file a claim with and who to pursue compensation from for your car accident damages.

When the vehicle owner is also the driver at fault, seeking compensation can be more straightforward. However, when the driver causing the accident is not also the owner of the car, this can create complications, and you may be unsure of how to proceed in your case. Each car accident case is different, and who is liable can vary depending on the circumstances of the case. For example, the owner, the driver, or both parties may be responsible to you and others you may have yet to consider.

Fault Determination and Negligence

Who is at fault for an accident can influence the options for recovery of compensation available to the victims. To determine fault, an insurance company or a court, when there is a pending lawsuit, will look to the elements of negligence. Such as what party breached their duty of care to another, thus leading to the collision and injuries. 

The elements of negligence that a victim must establish to prove a party caused a vehicle accident due to negligence are:

  1. The defendant in the case owed a duty of care to you
  1. There is a breach of the duty of care in some capacity, whether through overt acts or inaction
  2. You sustain harm or damages
  3. Your damages happen because of the breach of the duty of care by the defendant

What Insurance Coverage Applies in a Car Accident?

Insurance coverage in car accidents is complex. Policies and limitations can widely differ from one case to another and even from one party to another in the same case. For example, when it comes to motor vehicle accidents, the insurance coverage primarily responsible for the damages in an accident is that attached to the vehicle involved. If a driver causes an accident, it is not necessarily their insurance that will be the primary recovery for a collision victim.

Instead, the insurance coverage attached to the vehicle applies first, even if the driver and owner are not the same. Many states mandate that all operable vehicles must maintain valid vehicle liability insurance. The mandatory carrying of liability insurance works to protect innocent victims of a negligent car accident.

While it may be difficult to ensure every person who can drive a vehicle carries vehicle insurance coverage, it is more manageable to enforce that registered vehicles must have insurance.

Unfortunately, the system is not perfect, and there are instances in which a vehicle owner allows insurance to lapse or fails to acquire the coverage as required by the law. When this happens, and the vehicle is in an accident, causing injuries to others, the victims of the accident may have recourse to sue the parties responsible personally.

Personal Liability for Car Accident – Owner Versus Driver

Personal liability for a motor vehicle accident is separate from insurance coverage for a collision. While fault and liability play a part in whether an insurance company will cover your losses, you may wish to consider their personal liability.

Insurance coverage is not infinite, and there are many times, particularly in accidents with multiple victims or serious injuries, where the policy limitations are not enough. Victims may need to seek an additional option to compensate for their damages when this occurs.

When an individual causes an accident as a driver, they are themselves potentially liable for their actions. This means they are personally responsible for the damages and harm they cause. While they can use insurance coverage when available to shield them from certain losses when it is not sufficient, a victim can go after them personally for the financial recovery of any losses not yet compensated.

When the party in question is the owner of the vehicle and did not directly cause the accident as they were not driving at the time, the issue of personal liability is more complex. Off the bat, the owner of a vehicle is not ordinarily liable for the actions of another driver beyond the insurance coverage available under the car. However, there are some extenuating circumstances in which a vehicle owner can be legally liable even when not behind the wheel.

If the vehicle owner is a business or employer, you can hold them vicariously liable for the driver’s actions. Furthermore, suppose the car owner is negligent in allowing another to drive their vehicle, such as an individual knowingly under the influence, unlicensed or underage. In that case, you can hold them personally liable for the accident that results.

What Should You Do If You are in an Auto Accident Caused by a Driver that is Not the Car Owner?

Getting the compensation you need after any car accident is tedious and can be overwhelming. Fighting with the insurance company will be difficult, and you may face additional challenges when the driver causing the accident is not the car owner and named insured. The first step you can take in your case is to contact a car accident attorney to represent you.

When you want a solution sooner rather than later, you may think that hiring an attorney will only cause your case to drag on longer, but this is not true. A car accident lawyer will protect your interests from the first moments following a crash and will do what they can to get you a fair and reasonable resolution as soon as possible.

Through navigating the facts of your case, discovering liability, collecting evidence, and negotiations on your behalf, a car accident attorney can make a significant difference in a case’s outcome and how much compensation you deserve.

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