What if Someone Else Gets in an Accident in My Car?
In “no-fault” New York State, auto insurance policies are attached to the vehicles, not the drivers. So, if you’ve let a friend or family member borrow your car, your policy will cover injuries and property damage should an accident occur. On the bright side, if you’re in a position to lend out your vehicle, you likely have purchased sufficient insurance to cover the cost of repairs.
On the downside, there are circumstances where the damage will not be fully covered, and the insurer will penalize you. Therefore, you must understand your vehicle’s insurance requirements before you agree to let someone else drive away on your policy.
What if someone stole your car?
Your insurance policy kicks in when you allow someone to borrow your car. But what if your vehicle is stolen and crashed? In the case of theft, you must immediately file a report with law enforcement. Most insurers will not honor a theft claim without police corroboration. Be sure to also report it to your insurance company.
If the vehicle is totaled, you won’t have to pay for the thief’s medical bills, but you may need to use your collision/uninsured motorist insurance to pay for repairs. You and your insurer can file a lawsuit to recover damages, in some instances, so it’s worth speaking with a civil attorney to explore your legal options. One caveat is that the insurer can hold you liable if you left the keys in the ignition when the car was stolen.
Was the driver part of your household?
Insurance companies require policyholders to declare all drivers in the household, as your policy will then generally include these individuals in the event of a claim. If your vehicle is driven and subsequently crashed by a non-household member or an undeclared member of the household, the insurer will still pay the claim, but retains the right to cancel your insurance upon renewal due to your oversight– which they’ll call a “misrepresentation.” If a member of your household was specifically excluded from your policy but drives and crashes the car anyway, you could be liable to pay for all damages out-of-pocket.
Was the driver unlicensed or intoxicated?
Whether the person driving your car was doing so legally also makes a difference. If you allowed someone without driving privileges or under the influence of drugs or alcohol get behind the wheel, you could be sued for damages. This would be on top of having to pay for repairs and medical expenses yourself.
The legal theory of “negligent entrustment” also applies when you knowingly lend your car to a driver with a history of reckless driving (such as multiple speeding tickets or traffic violations); a driver who lacks the experience to safely and effectively operate your vehicle (such as someone who has never driven stick-shift); or a driver with decreased visibility or reaction times (such as someone impaired by old age, poor eyesight, illness, or a particular medical condition). In these cases, you can be sued even though you weren’t directly involved in the accident itself.
Have you properly maintained your vehicle?
Allowing someone to drive a car that is unsafe and poorly maintained is another issue that could result in your liability for damages. Your vehicle should have working lights, seat belts, and brakes before you loan it out to someone else, or you could be sued for “negligent maintenance” following a crash.
Did the damages exceed your policy limits?
Another scenario where another person’s accident in your vehicle could personally cost you occurs– when the damages exceed your insurance policy limits. New York requires at least $25,000 for bodily injury, $50,000 for death, and $10,000 for property damage. If the driver does not have enough insurance to cover the excess, the burden falls on your shoulders.
Do you need advice following an accident?
We are here to help you understand your auto insurance policy, legal rights, and financial responsibilities. Call us at Douglas and London to schedule a free consultation with an experienced New York car accident lawyer.
We charge nothing upfront to pursue litigation. All legal fees are paid on a contingency basis, meaning you only pay for legal services when you receive a cash settlement or jury award.