It's Your Car, But You Weren't Driving: Determining Liability For Accidents Caused By Borrowers

When you send your son or daughter out on an errand, or they borrow your vehicle for a weekend, you are taking a risk, especially if they are not included on your insurance policy. The same holds true for friends who borrow your car-- because you own it, you may be liable for any damages incurred when there is a car accident and your car is involved.

Is this always true?

Usually. For example, if you lend a car to a friend, you are assuming responsibility for both the driver, the car, and any incidents that they might be involved in. However, things can get complicated when:

  • the car is borrowed without permission. This may or not be classified as theft. You will need a good car accident attorney in order to pass off liability onto someone else if your teenager simply takes the car from the garage to drive to a party. Many courts may not see this action as theft, and may still hold you liable because, as a parent and as a vehicle owner, you showed negligence. Courts may still see that you gave permission for someone else to drive, just because of your relationship to the at-fault driver. 
  • the borrower lends the car out without your knowledge. Sure, you may trust a family member or close friend to safely drive your car, but what happens when they pass off the chain of command to someone else? Well, most courts may still hold you responsible, because as the owner, you should know where your car is and who is driving it at all times. Again, with a good lawyer, you may be able to split liability and damages with another party, or you may be able to prove that there was no possible way you could have prevented the accident (no access to internet or phones, no tracking device in the car, shared ownership with other drivers etc.)

But, what if my car really was stolen?

Family members can steal cars from their relatives, so if someone you know does steal your car, you have to protect yourself, just in case there is an accident. First, as soon as you notice your car is missing, it's best to file a police report. You may not wish to involve legal authorities, especially if your car was taken by someone you love, but it is the right step in your legal case. The police report can be proof in court that you had no control over the vehicle or the actions of the driver. 

However, not all theft will leave you liability-free. The nature of the theft also matters. For example, courts may still hold you responsible for an accident if:

  • you left the car windows rolled down in a public place, such as the grocery store parking lot.
  • you left the keys in the ignition, allowing a thief to easily drive your car away. Courts may see this as you giving permission to another driver to take the car, or as negligence as an owner.

If your child is the one who legitimately steals the car, you have hope of winning your case if:

  • you park the car in a locked garage, off of public streets. Stealing property from a private residence is much easier to prove, especially if locks are broken. 
  • you keep your keys in a location that your child should not be able to access, such as a locked drawer or safe
  • you have a distanced relationship from your child or if they do not live at home
  • your child has a history of theft or criminal activity

If you still have questions about your situation, go to sites of local car accident attorneys, or contact them to ask about your specific case.