The unthinkable has happened. You loaned your car to a friend or family member and they have called to tell you that they crashed your car. Oh no… now what? What if your friend is injured, the other driver is injured, or your car is badly damaged? Who is going to pay for this and ultimately, who is liable when another driver crashed your car?
Who is Liable for The Damages?
Unfortunately, the person you lent your car to is not liable and neither is their insurance. You as an individual are liable as the owner of the car. But this is only the case if you permitted that person to drive your car. In that case, they are the permissive driver, and you are liable for damages, pain, and suffering.
Was Permission Given?
A question of who is liable for the damages may be raised based on the permission given to the driver.
Some car insurance policies factor in permissive use, which means they expect that from time to time, you will permit other drivers to drive your car. (NOLO) But before you lend your car to friends or family, you should make sure your insurance covers permissive use. Call your car insurance provider to find out!
One important note to consider is that insurance companies expect that “from time to time” to be no more than 12 times in a calendar year. If a friend or family member is using your car regularly, or more than 12 times a year, then car insurance companies require that person to be registered on the car insurance.
No Permission or No License
If you did not give the person permission to drive your car, or that person is not licensed to drive a car in the first place, then they are held accountable for the damages. The issue here is that it is difficult to prove that you did not implicitly or explicitly deny permission.
You can also exclude a driver from your car insurance policy. You may want to do this when living with inexperienced drivers or drivers who have had their licenses revoked or been in some sort of legal trouble because of their driving. In this case, it is much easier to identify who is liable.
Of course, if someone steals your car and crashes it, you are also not liable for any damages.
How Will This Affect Your Insurance? If a friend crashes your car, your insurance rates will increase.
For How Much Are You Liable?
All claims will begin with your insurance, which will be deemed primary. Any amount above that cap may fall onto other insurance plans.
Florida Statute sec 324.021 caps the liability.
The cap is $100k if the person driving, a permissive user has $500k in combined bodily injury and property damage coverage. If the permissive user has no coverage, or coverage less than that, the owner (you) are liable to the tune of 100/300/50 (100,000 maximum bodily injuries per person, 300,000 maximum bodily injury; 50,000 property damage) +another $500k in economic damages.
These limits do not apply to any negligence claim other than pure vicarious liability solely under dangerous instrumentality (as opposed to negligent maintenance, entrustment, etc.). Always keep in mind the possibility, albeit remote, of a joint venture to get around these caps as well.
Also keep in mind that Florida Statute 324.021 caps on damages only apply to individuals, not corporations.
If you want to get above the cap, you can investigate negligent hiring/retention/entrustment. Caps don’t apply to those causes of actions.
Speak to an Attorney
If you find yourself in this situation, where it is unclear who is liable for the car accident, or if you want to context your liability, speak with a West Palm Beach car accident lawyer as soon as possible. If you were in the car, you may be able to get personal injury damages as a passenger.
Be sure that you consider the consequences whenever you lend your car to a friend or family member. A quick trip to the store or even just switching cars in the driveway could lead to an accident. In most cases, you are the person liable. So, what may seem like a harmless little incident, can be a larger issue if anything doesn’t go according to plan.
This article was originally written and published on Jan 10, 2013, and updated on Nov 5, 2020.