The short answer: in most cases, the owner is the liable party but it depends on various factors. If your situation allows, you may be able to file a claim against the owner, the driver, or both.
When is the owner liable for a car accident?
The owner will be liable for damages from a car accident in almost every case. This is because, contrary to prior belief, insurance follows the car not the driver. Most assume that their own insurance covers them if they drive another car; however, in many states, that is simply untrue.
Consider the following: Matt asks his roommate, John, if he can borrow his car to go to the grocery store. John says yes. On the way to the grocery, Matt runs a red light and crashes into Sally. Even though Matt caused the accident, Sally would file a claim with John’s insurer. In this case, John’s insurer has “primary coverage status.”
When is the driver liable for a car accident?
While it might seem counterintuitive, the at-fault driver is rarely ever liable. The driver will likely only be liable for injuries if the plaintiff’s injuries max out the owner’s insurance policy. This is because the driver’s insurance has “secondary coverage status.”
For example, Sally suffered $60,000 in injuries. John’s insurance policy has a coverage limit of $25,000. If Matt’s insurance policy is higher, it will cover the remaining $35,000.
The owner’s insurance company might request repayment from the driver’s insurance company.
Are there any defenses the owner might use?
You can expect the owner and his insurer to claim that he did not give the driver permission to drive the car. Depending on the circumstances of your case, this defense might hold.
For example, if the driver stole the owner’s car off the street, the owner will not be liable.
It gets more complicated, however, when the driver is a friend or family member of the owner.
Consider our example from above; however, in this case, Matt did not ask first before taking John’s car. John’s insurer will likely claim that John had no knowledge of Matt’s use of the car and that he never gave Matt permission to use the car.
To poke holes in this defense, we will investigate this claim. If we can prove that John had allowed Matt to borrow his car five times in the past, we can argue that Matt had permissive use of the car.
If John had specifically told Matt the week before that he could not borrow his car again, John may be able to avoid liability as Matt’s use was “non-permissive.” In this situation, Matt’s insurance will be primary and John’s will be secondary.
What can I expect from the process?
First, as with all Florida car accidents, you will turn to your own personal injury protection (PIP) coverage to pay for your medical bills and lost wages. Once you have exhausted that policy, you can file a claim with the liable party’s insurer.
We will investigate your accident and determine who exactly is liable. Once we have determined the liable party, we will establish negligence, file a claim, and start collecting evidence that proves the owner gave the driver permission to drive his car.
To prove negligence, we will obtain the following:
- Surveillance video
- Medical records
- Eyewitness testimony
To establish that John owned the car and that he gave Matt permission to drive it, we will gather:
- Ownership papers
- Eyewitness testimony (e.g., John’s girlfriend Sara said that John regularly gave Matt permission to drive the car, a friend saw John give Matt the keys, another roommate says Matt and John share the car, etc.)
What if the owner does not carry liability coverage?
Liability coverage is not a requirement in Florida. If the owner of the car involved in your accident does not have liability insurance, we can move on to the driver. If the driver also lacks coverage, we can determine if there are any other liable parties that we can recover compensation from.
If no other parties are available, we can sue the owner or driver to recover the compensation you need.
Does it matter if I was partially at-fault for the collision?
No. Per Florida’s pure comparative negligence laws, you can hold another party liable for your injuries as long as it is more than one percent liable for your injuries. If you contributed to the accident by violating a traffic law, you might still be entitled to compensation. However, it is important to note that your fault will decrease your settlement amount.
For this reason, it is imperative that you speak with a car accident attorney.
Get help from a car accident lawyer at Coffey Trial Law.
Florida accident law can be complicated enough without having to determine whether there are additional liable parties involved. A Fort Lauderdale car accident lawyer from Coffey Trial Law will investigate your accident to identify all potential liable parties. Our team will also build your case and defend you against any accusations of fault.
Call Coffey Trial Law today at 954-541-3194 today for your free consultation.