Getting Into a Car Accident in a Friend’s Car: Who Is Liable? The Car Owner or the Driver?

In most car accident cases, determining liability is fairly simple. The first question is which driver caused the accident, as the insurance laws in a state may require the at-fault motorist’s insurer to cover their victims’ medical bills and property expenses.

What happens when someone in a car accident does not own the vehicle they were driving? If you are in a car accident in a friend’s car, the friend’s insurance will generally cover your and any third party’s losses—but not always. You will need to consult a car accident lawyer to know for sure.

The Car Owner’s Insurance Typically Covers Accident-Related Losses

Car Accident in a Friend's Car: Who Is Liable? The Car Owner or the Driver?

Auto insurance policies, in reality, apply to the vehicle just as much as the driver. So long as the friend involved in the accident is not a regular user of the vehicle, the vehicle owner’s auto insurance should cover the friend’s medical bills (and certain other damages).

The car owner’s insurance generally serves as the first financial line of defense for accident-related losses. This includes both losses suffered by the car owner (such as property damage), the friend, and any third parties who suffer injuries, property damages, and other losses because of the collision.

Determining Liability When You Are in an Accident in a Friend’s Car

Each state has different approaches to auto insurance, specifically determining whose insurer must pay for whose accident-related losses. Therefore, your attorney will need to establish liability; in doing so, they determine who must pay for your accident-related losses.

If You Caused the Accident in a Friend’s Vehicle

If you are the person who caused the car accident while driving a friend’s vehicle, the friend’s auto insurance may cover your losses (and any third party’s losses). However, if you have your own auto insurance, it may serve as a backup form of financial support for you or any third party harmed by the accident.

If a Friend Caused the Accident in Your Vehicle

If you are the vehicle owner and a friend who you let borrow the vehicle caused an accident (or was the victim of an accident), your auto insurance may cover damages. This can affect your auto insurance premiums, and a lawyer can explain any options that may shift liability to your friend.

If you did not give your friend permission to borrow the vehicle, this can affect liability for the accident. The friend’s auto insurer may have to cover accident-related losses, the injured party can try to hold the friend personally liable for any harm they caused.

If a Third Party Caused the Accident

If a third party caused the collision involving you or your friend, you can hold that third party’s insurer liable for accident-related losses. You can hold the third party liable for any losses exceeding their auto policy’s coverage limits.

States handle auto insurance claims differently, with the two primary insurance approaches being:

  1. No-fault insurance laws
  2. Fault-based insurance laws

Your attorney will consider the insurance laws in your state as they develop a comprehensive strategy for pursuing compensation for you or protecting you from others’ attempts to hold you liable.

Key Considerations That Can Make Your Car Accident Case More Challenging

Accidents where a vehicle owner is not the driver require personal injury lawyers to address several critical questions, including:

  • Who caused the accident?
  • Did a hazard other than motorist negligence (such as a vehicle defect) contribute to the collision?
  • What is the insurance status of the vehicle drivers and owners?
  • What are the insurance-specific laws in the state, and do those laws place the financial burden on the at-fault motorist?
  • Do victims’ accident-related losses exceed the coverages provided through insurance?

These questions are usually impossible to answer on your own. You need to hire a car accident lawyer to lead your case.

Advice for Car Owners Whose Friend Causes an Accident in Their Vehicle

If you are the owner of the vehicle in the accident but weren’t driving the vehicle at the time of the collision, you must protect your financial interests. Depending on the details of the accident and the state in which your accident happened, you may stand to gain or lose much from an insurance claim or lawsuit.

Consider that:

You May Deserve Compensation for Vehicle Repairs

You deserve fair compensation to repair or replace your vehicle. Though your friend may have been behind the wheel, your vehicle took the direct impact of the collision.

A personal injury lawyer will work to secure fair compensation for:

  • Vehicle repairs
  • Replacement of a totaled vehicle
  • Money to cover temporary transportation
  • Any other accident-related losses you suffer as a result of the accident

A lawyer will review the circumstances of the accident, evaluate your damages, and propose a strategy specific to your needs.

Can an Injured Party Hold You Liable for the Accident?

As the vehicle’s owner, you may be liable if your friend caused the accident. If a third party’s accident-related damages exceed the insurance coverage provided by your policy and any auto policy your friend has, the third party may sue you for financial damages.

State laws vary when it comes to liability for car accidents. Having an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side can spare you from direct liability for an accident you did not cause.

A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Provide Comprehensive Legal Services

Regardless of whether your friend caused their accident or not, you may face financial liability or deserve compensation for yourself. Hiring a personal injury lawyer will allow you to avoid the complexities of insurance claims or a lawsuit, as they’ll efficiently evaluate your circumstances and provide clear, detailed advice.

Advice for Those Involved in an Accident While Driving Their Friend’s Car

If you were driving a friend’s car and were in an accident, consider that:

By One Means or Another, Someone Should Cover Your Losses

You can pursue compensation for medical bills, income losses, and other accident-related damages in many ways.

You may secure compensation from:

  • A third party’s insurer
  • Your friend’s auto insurer
  • Your own auto insurer
  • A third party or your friend, who you may hold financially liable for your damages

Even if a third party’s damages exceed insurance coverage, they may sue the vehicle owner for damages.

Your Friend’s Negligence May Have Harmed You

If a defect in the vehicle caused or contributed to the accident, you may hold your friend personally liable for your accident-related damages.

For example, a vehicle owner who fails to replace worn-out brakes exposes their friend to danger, especially if they don’t inform the friend of the defective brakes before allowing them to borrow the car.

You May Need to Speak with Your Own Auto Insurer (but Only After Hiring a Lawyer)

Your own auto insurers may need to know about your accident and may even need to provide compensation to you or others affected by the accident. Always have an attorney provide this notice, as they should carefully handle any and all insurance communications, even with your provider.

Giving an insurer recorded statements can hurt your case if you:

  • Misremember the facts of the accident
  • Unintentionally admit to causing the accident
  • Make any other errors that shed a poor light on you (or your friend)

An attorney can prepare you to make any necessary recorded statements. Your lawyer may even arrange for you to submit a carefully crafted written statement without risk of misinterpretation.

A Personal Injury Attorney May Be of Great Use to You

You may benefit greatly from hiring a personal injury lawyer. Your lawyer will seek any compensation you deserve while protecting you from unfair financial liability for the accident.

Why Hiring a Car Accident Attorney May Be Wise in Any of These Circumstances

Anyone connected to a car accident needs a capable personal injury lawyer because:

  • A lawyer protects your rights and prevents catastrophic mistakes (like admitting fault for an accident, accepting a lowball settlement, or allowing the statute of limitations to pass)
  • You may deserve compensation, and a lawyer will make it their mission to recover it for you
  • You may lack the time, energy, or knowledge to sort out liability and fight for a financial recovery
  • A personal injury lawyer’s firm can provide much-needed financial support for your case

Even if a personal injury lawyer is not the right attorney to lead your case, they may refer you to a lawyer who will better represent you.

How a Personal Injury Attorney Will Help You

Personal injury lawyers generally seek compensation for accident victims. Knowing that car accidents can cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, your attorney may face a tall task.

Personal injury lawyers serve their car accident victim clients by:

Evaluating All Options for Seeking Compensation, Including Insurance Claims and Lawsuits

Your role in the accident (or lack thereof, if you’re the vehicle owner) may largely determine your options for seeking compensation. Your state’s laws regarding liability and auto insurance coverage will also be relevant.

An experienced personal injury lawyer in your area may be a trove of information about insurance laws. They will combine their existing knowledge with the details of your case (including specific insurance policies) to advise the right strategy.

Initiate Any Claim(s) or Lawsuit You Choose to Pursue

Once you and your lawyer have identified a strategy for seeking compensation, your lawyer will execute that strategy. They must act quickly because your case likely has a filing deadline for lawsuits (and similar deadlines for insurance claims).

Gather All Accident-Related Evidence

Your attorney will pursue any evidence that can benefit your case, which may include:

  • Witness accounts of the collision
  • Video footage of the collision
  • Expert opinions about who is at fault for the accident
  • Any statements related to whether you allowed your friend to borrow the car (or, as the friend, whether the owner allowed you to borrow the car)

Evidence is unique to each car accident case. Your lawyer may work with experienced accident investigators to build a strong, evidence-based case for compensation.

Document Your Accident-Related Damages (and Calculate a Fair Settlement)

A client’s damages are always the central focus for car accident lawyers. Your attorney will secure any medical images, doctors’ records, medical bills, invoices for property-related services (like vehicle repairs), and other proof of your damages.

Negotiate a Settlement

Your lawyer will negotiate with insurers or other parties who owe you compensation for a car accident.

Negotiations may require your lawyer to:

  • Present evidence of liability for the car accident
  • Detail specific aspects of insurance policies that prove you’re entitled to compensation
  • Present and question experts who have insight into liability or your damages
  • Present documentation of your damages to support their calculation of how much your damages cost

Most civil cases settle, but the goal is to settle for the entire amount of compensation you deserve. Your lawyer should fearlessly advocate for you during settlement talks.

Complete Any Necessary Trial

If settlement negotiations in your case prove difficult, your attorney should prepare for trial. If you must go to trial, you need a lawyer who will represent you in court.

Recoverable Damages an Attorney Can Seek Compensation For

A lawyer will seek compensation for any damages you suffer in the car accident, which may include:

  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost income
  • Diminished earning power
  • Treatment for pain and suffering
  • Temporary transportation
  • Medical expenses

Your attorney will consider both existing and future damages as they set the bar for settlement negotiations.

Call an Attorney Today to Discuss How They Can Serve You

Tatiana Boohoff - Tampa Car Accident Lawyer
Tatiana Boohoff, Car Accident Attorney in Tampa

A free consultation will allow you to ask a law firm about their services and to understand if a personal injury lawyer is the resource you need. Don’t wait, as a lawyer may need to meet a deadline for filing your case.

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September 7, 2023
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