J&Y Law Firm discusses how to determine who is liable in a car accident.

How Do You Know Who Is Liable in a Car Accident?

profile photo
By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

In most cases, the driver of a vehicle who causes a car accident is responsible for any damages caused by the crash. However, that is not always the case. If the driver of the vehicle is not the owner of the vehicle, you could have a claim for damages against more than one individual. A California car accident attorney can help you sort out the issue to protect your rights after a car crash.

Driver vs. Car Owner — Who is Responsible?

It depends on the circumstances of the case whether the driver or the car owner is responsible for a car accident. The California Vehicle Code states that the owner of a motor vehicle is responsible for damages caused during the operation of the vehicle even if another person is driving the vehicle with implied or express permission from the owner. Therefore, automobile insurance follows the vehicle, not the person. If you permit another person to drive your vehicle, you are responsible for damages if that person causes an accident. 

However, the owner’s liability is limited. The owner is only liable for damages and losses up to:

  • $15,000 per person for bodily injury or death
  • $30,000 per accident for personal injury or death 
  • $5,000 for property damage claims

There could be an exception that would result in the car owner being fully liable for all damages. For example, if the car owner allowed an unlicensed driver or incompetent driver, the car owner could be liable for all damages caused by the accident. Unfit or incompetent drivers could include elderly drivers, intoxicated drivers, and drivers with a history of reckless driving. 

If an exception does not apply and the damages from the car accident exceed the owner’s liability, the driver’s insurance would be liable for the remaining damages up to the driver’s policy limits. Therefore, an accident victim could have two different insurance claims arising from one car accident. 

Filing an Insurance Claim When the Driver is Not the Car Owner

The system of filing an insurance claim for a car accident should be similar regardless of whether the car owner was driving or someone else was driving. However, there could be complications. The insurance companies may argue regarding liability, especially if a potential exception might exist. The insurance company for the car owner might also dispute liability for the cause of the crash to avoid paying the claim.

As with any car accident claim, it is usually best to talk to an attorney before providing a statement to the insurance provider or signing any documents for the insurance company. With the added complication of the driver not being the car owner, the injury claim could be more complex.

Contact a California Car Accident Attorney for More Information

Car accident injuries can result in financial losses, physical pain, and other damages. Contact us today for a free consultation with a California car accident attorney. Our California car accident attorneys can investigate the accident to identify the party or parties responsible for your damages. By identifying all potential parties that might be liable for damages, you increase your chance of recovering full compensation.

author photo
About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.