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Inherent Liability: Who’s Liable When a Driver Crashes Someone Else’s Car?

Driver Crashes Someone Else’s CarWhen a driver crashes someone else’s car, the liability isn’t always clear, and it varies based on the location and the specifics of the situation. To help you get a sense of who’s liable, here’s a brief look at inherent liability and an overview of who’s liable when a car accident occurs in someone else’s car.

Permissive Use

Most car insurance policies have a permissive use clause. This simply means that if the owner gives someone permission to use their car, their insurance covers that driver. To explain, imagine someone lets their brother drive their car and the brother crashes the car, causing property damage. In this situation, it doesn’t matter whether or not the brother has coverage because the owner’s policy covers the damages.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. In Massachusetts, for example, you are required to list all other regular drivers on your policy, and some insurers interpret this broadly to mean that you should list all drivers, even if they only use your vehicle occasionally. As a result, the insurer may deny the claim if the driver isn’t listed on the owner’s policy. To learn about the laws in New Hampshire, contact an auto accident attorney directly, as this state has unique laws.

Roommates and Family Members

Typically, every licensed member of a household has to be listed on the car insurance policy for that household. This applies to family members, but surprisingly, it can also apply to roommates. If you share a house with a few people, your car insurance company usually won’t require you to list them on your policy if they have their own vehicles and their own insurance coverage.

However, if one of your roommates is a licensed driver without a vehicle or insurance, your insurance company may assume that they are likely to borrow your car, and because of that, your insurer may require you to list them on your policy. In this situation, if that individual borrows your car, your insurance should cover any liability issues.

Excluded Drivers

Adding certain drivers to your policy can drive up your premiums, especially if the driver is young or has a bad driving record. To sidestep those extra costs, you can exclude certain members of your household from your auto insurance policy. Those people need to be expressly listed as excluded on the policy, and they should never drive the vehicle, as they are not covered.

Theft

Whether someone is an excluded driver or not, if they take a vehicle without permission, the owner is generally not liable for anything that happens. In that situation, the thief is exclusively liable for any accidents that occur. However, for this to hold true, the owner of the vehicle may need to charge the driver with theft. That helps to establish that the driver did not have permission to use the car and this step may be necessary to protect the vehicle’s owner from a liability standpoint.

Non-Permissive Use

If the owner of the vehicle isn’t claiming that theft was involved, non-permissive use rules may come into play in a different way. Typically, if someone takes a car without permission, their insurance kicks in first, and then, the owner’s policy fills in any gaps. Conversely, if the driver doesn’t have insurance, the owner’s auto insurance policy may cover the damages, but that is not always the case.

For example, in the case of Wayne Mahoney vs. American Automobile Insurance Company, the judge ruled that the insurer was not responsible when a driver caused an accident with a rental car because the rental company (the owner of the vehicle) had not authorized him to use the vehicle. However, this only applies to adult drivers, and the rules vary based on whether or not a child was involved.

Parental Responsibility

In some cases, parents exclude their teenagers from their policies, and if the teen takes the family car without permission, the parents can charge the teen with theft as explained above. However, with parents and children, the rules are a bit more complicated. Parents are expected to be responsible for their children, and if a teen takes a vehicle, crashes it, and hurts someone, the parent can be held responsible. That’s true whether the parent let the teen borrow the car or not. Similarly, parents often can be held criminally and civilly liable for allowing their children to commit a range of other crimes.

Company Cars

When someone is driving a vehicle for work, their employer is usually liable for any accidents that occur. For instance, if a delivery truck driver hits a pedestrian, the owner of that company is liable for the damages. In situations where the driver is an independent contractor, the inherent liability is not as clear. Ride-sharing services in particular, often try to absolve themselves of liability unless the driver is actively carrying a passenger, but the courts have held these companies responsible for accidents occurring between fares.

Liability is a complicated issue, and if you’ve been in a car accident, you need a professional who truly understands the laws inside and out. To get the justice you deserve, contact Mazow | McCullough, PC today. We will help you take a stand against the people who hurt you, regardless of whose car they were driving.

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