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Who Is Liable if the At-Fault Driver Is Not the Owner of the Car?

Whether the car was stolen or the owner lent the vehicle to a friend or family member, who is liable for your injuries and damages?

In most car accidents, the at-fault driver is also the owner of the vehicle. However, that’s not always the case.

Think about a stolen vehicle that crashes into another car. Obviously, the driver is not the owner. 

test drive car keys

Whether the car was stolen or the owner lent the vehicle to a friend or family member, who is liable for your injuries and damages? The answer is not always straightforward.

Car Driver vs. Owner: Who Is Liable in a Car Accident?

Let’s imagine the following scenario. 

Thomas lends his car to his best friend, Mark. Mark crashes the car into another vehicle, causing minor damages and injuries. Although Mark was the one driving the vehicles, the owner of the car (Thomas) may be held liable for the accident. The owner is not responsible for the accident, but liability falls on his shoulders and his insurance will generally cover the cost of damages and injuries. 

However, what happens if the damage Mark causes exceeds the limit of Thomas’ insurance? Will the driver be held responsible in this case? Not necessarily.

The victim can sue the owner of the car (Thomas) for compensation while Mark may still not be held liable since he was driving the car with Thomas’ permission. 

It all has to do with the principle of vicarious liability. This is a legal doctrine that states that the liability for an injury does not necessarily fall on the person who caused the injury, but instead on the person who has a particular legal relationship with the individual who caused the damage. In our case, Thomas, the owner of the car, will likely be held liable for the actions of his friend, Mark. 

Negligent Entrustment

In Missouri, a person can be held liable if he lends his vehicle to someone unfit to drive. For example, if the driver is underage, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or inexperienced, then the owner of the car can be accused of negligent entrustment.  

So, for instance, if Thomas lends his car to Mark who has a known history of driving under the influence and Mark drives intoxicated, causing serious injuries to another driver, Thomas may be held liable for the victim’s injuries or death. 

Why Speak With an Attorney?

If you’ve been injured in an accident and discover that the driver is not the owner of the car, you may be unsure of your next steps. Should you file your claim against the person who actually caused your injuries (the driver) or the person who is legally responsible for their vehicle (the owner of the car?) With the high emotions and stress a car accident induces, it can be difficult to think straight and make the right decisions. 

For this reason, it is very important that you discuss the specifics of your car accident claim with an experienced St. Louis car accident attorney as soon as possible after an accident. An attorney can help ensure your legal rights are protected.

Free Consultation with a St. Louis Car Accident Lawyer

Don’t talk to an insurance claims adjuster before speaking with The Hoffmann Law Firm, L.L.C. We can help you avoid making statements that may affect the outcome of your case. The consultation is free; you don’t pay unless we get you money!

Free Consultation (314) 361-4242
Updated: November 27, 2020