There are many circumstances in which someone outside of your household might drive your car. In the unfortunate event that another driver gets in an accident while driving your vehicle, however, you may have a lot of questions–like what happens if the driver is not listed on your car insurance policy? Are you liable for damages to your vehicle or someone else’s personal property? What if the driver of your vehicle has injured or killed someone? The answers to these questions lie in the concept of a “permissive user” and the specifics of your vehicle insurance policy.
A permissive user is a person who has been granted permission to use your vehicle but is not listed on your vehicle’s insurance policy. In practice, however, permissive use may be less clear-cut. For example, it may be difficult to determine who actually owns a vehicle and who is therefore legally allowed to grant permission for its use.
Although the person named on the registration may generally be considered the owner, if the vehicle is regularly used and maintained by another person, he or she might also be considered the owner. Questions like these can complicate the question of permissive use.
Additionally, different insurance carriers and policies may have different definitions of a permissive user. Some insurance companies require any person who regularly drives a vehicle be formally listed on the insurance policy. In these cases, people who routinely drive a vehicle are not permissive users because they should be listed on the insurance policy.
If a permissive user gets in an accident while driving your car, whose car insurance covers the damages? The answer depends on the type of insurance coverage. The basic rule for collision and comprehensive insurance is that the insurance covers the vehicle, not the driver. This means your insurance will cover your car even if you are not driving.
For liability insurance, however, costs may be covered by both your insurance and the driver’s insurance. Liability insurance covers the cost of damage for the party who is at fault in the accident. In a serious accident, damages to personal property, medical bills, and other costs can amount to a large sum. If your liability insurance does not cover the entire amount, the driver’s insurance may be used to absorb the overflow. If the driver of your vehicle does not have liability insurance, you will be personally responsible for the remaining amount.
Unfortunately, the owner of the vehicle responsible for the accident can be liable for damage to personal property, injuries, or death, even if another person was driving at the time of the accident. This is called vicarious liability. Liability insurance for both you and the driver of the vehicle will cover damages, but depending on the severity of the accident, it may not cover the entire amount. Additionally, if your vehicle is found to be at fault, the other parties in the accident may sue you. In the case of a wrongful death suit, for example, you could be held responsible–even if you were not driving the car.
If a permissive user has been in an accident while driving your vehicle, you should retain a lawyer who can advise you on the best course of action. An experienced attorney can help protect you against vicarious liability and work to make sure that insurance companies fulfill your claims. Contact the Houston personal injury lawyers at Gordon, Elias, and Seely LLP for a free consultation about your rights. You can also call us toll free at (800) 773-6770.