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Determining Car Accident Liabilities: Car Owner vs. the At-Fault Driver

liability of car accident

Determining liability after a car accident can prove critical to filing an insurance company claim or lawsuit and receiving the compensation you deserve to cover your injuries and losses. Depending on the circumstances involved in your car accident case, there might be some doubt about whose liability insurance coverage applies. For example, is the other driver or even the car owner the one that caused your losses? In some cases, both may bear responsibility.

Legal liability might seem clear if your car accident injuries resulted from a distracted driver, a speeding motorist, or someone who ignored the rules of the road. However, other factors could also impact your car accident case. When it comes time to file an insurance claim, you might have the right to claim compensation from multiple insurers. Talk to an experienced Florida personal injury lawyer who handles car accident cases to ensure your legal rights are protected under Florida law.

Insurance Policies and Car Accident Liability Provisions

Florida law requires all drivers to maintain personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage. Under this “no-fault” liability law, car accident victims must file a claim against their own PIP coverage before seeking compensation for a car accident caused by other responsible parties.

Since PIP coverage is very limited, you may be eligible to bring a claim against the insurer for the at-fault party when your medical bills and other losses exceed the coverage amount. For example, an expensive vehicle may cost significantly more than Florida’s minimum auto insurance requirements to repair, or a victim who suffers severe injuries like spinal cord injuries may have a long road to recovery and immense medical costs to contend with during that recovery process.

Commonly, insurance policies follow the vehicle, not the driver. While an insurance policy may cover a driver that gets into an accident in a vehicle that does not have insurance coverage, insurance companies usually write policies to cover specific drivers. This could be the case, for example, if the driver did not know that the vehicle did not have insurance coverage or when using a rental vehicle.

Most insurance policies will require the vehicle owner to name any other drivers who have permission to drive the vehicle, including the vehicle owner’s spouse and any children living in the household who could reasonably have permission to drive the vehicle. However, the insurance policy will likely still cover any driver that uses the vehicle with the owner’s permission.

Potential Car Accident Liability: a Negligent Driver

In most cases, the vehicle driver bears liability for any accident caused by that driver’s negligent behavior, regardless of whose car the driver chooses to drive. While the vehicle owner’s insurance policy may cover that driver, you will typically not have the right to pursue compensation from the vehicle owner if you need additional compensation for the accident. You can, however, sometimes seek compensation from the liable driver directly.

Drivers may bear liability for a variety of potentially dangerous behaviors on the road, including:

  • Driving while distracted, including distractions like smartphones, GPS devices, changing the station on the radio, or interacting with other people in the vehicle.
  • Driving while intoxicated.
  • Ignoring the rules of the road, particularly with regards to speeding, following traffic signals, or yielding to other types of traffic.
  • Aggressive driving.

Many car accidents do not occur due to a deliberate error or dangerous act on the driver’s part. In most cases, they result from minor acts of inattention or negligence. However, the vehicle driver does bear liability for those behaviors and decisions. In some cases, you may have the right to directly pursue compensation from that driver as part of your car accident claim.

Potential Car Accident Liability: a Negligent Vehicle Owner

Most auto accidents occur due to driver negligence: minor errors out on the road that can lead to accidents with severe consequences. However, in some cases, the owner may bear direct liability for the conditions that led to the accident.

Negligent Entrustment

Negligent entrustment occurs when the vehicle owner willingly and knowingly loans out a vehicle to someone who should not reasonably drive.

That might include knowingly lending the vehicle to a driver who:

  • Does not drive safely and regularly engages in dangerous behavior on the road, with the knowledge of the vehicle owner.
  • Has had too much to drink.
  • Does not have a license.
  • Has a medical condition or takes medication that could prevent the driver from safely operating the vehicle.

Negligent entrustment may leave the vehicle owner personally liable for damages the accident caused, even in cases where the driver clearly committed negligent actions that led to the incident. For the vehicle owner to bear liability for negligent entrustment, your attorney will need to prove:

  • The vehicle owner knowingly loaned the vehicle out
  • The driver did not steal the vehicle or “borrow” it without permission, and
  • The owner should reasonably have known about the potential danger.

Suppose, for example, that two friends chose to sit around and drink for several hours. They ran out of alcohol, and one volunteered to pick up more drinks. The vehicle owner handed his keys to his friend despite knowing about his inebriation. In that case, the vehicle owner could bear liability for negligent entrustment.

Likewise, suppose that the vehicle owner knows that his friend has a habit of making dangerous decisions out on the road. The driver exceeds the speed limit, drives aggressively, or has a habit of engaging in road rage. The vehicle owner knowingly hands over his keys anyway, and the driver gets into an accident. As a result, the vehicle owner may be liable for some of the damages associated with the accident.

Vehicle Damage/Lack of Maintenance

To decrease accident risk, vehicle owners bear a duty to care for their vehicles properly. They must take care of needed maintenance on the vehicle, especially in light of known problems. Sometimes, however, the vehicle owner may breach their duty and increase the risk of an accident.

The vehicle owner may bear liability for:

  • Failing to make needed repairs on the vehicle.
  • Completing needed repairs incorrectly or dangerously.
  • Failing to warn the driver about a potential problem with the vehicle that could affect its safety.

Many problems, like brake failure, could pose a substantial danger out on the road. If the vehicle owner knows about the problem, does not fix it, and loans out his vehicle anyway, he could bear liability for an accident caused by that failure.

When the At-Fault Driver was Working at the Time of the Accident

If you have an accident with an employee driving a company vehicle for work purposes, the employer may bear some liability for your losses. The driver may have no direct ownership of the vehicle involved in the crash, but if they were working at the time of the collision, the employer might also be held responsible.

In some cases, you can pursue compensation through the insurance policy that covers the vehicle since many corporate owners carry high-value coverage to help protect the driver and the company. Depending on the circumstances, the company may directly share liability with the driver, and you might have the right to pursue compensation from that company. An employer may be liable for your car accident losses under several situations.

Poor Maintenance

Often, companies, like private owners, will put maintenance off until the last minute. Vehicle maintenance, especially over a fleet of vehicles, can prove extremely expensive and time-consuming. However, like private owners, corporate vehicle owners may bear liability when a failure to take care of necessary maintenance ends up causing a severe accident.

Dangerous Policies

Corporate owners may share direct liability for an accident when the business’s policies increase the risks faced by drivers out on the road. For example, some companies may have policies that push their drivers to exceed speed limits or ignore the road rules to make deliveries faster and more effective.

In commercial semi-truck businesses, all drivers must keep a log to show how many hours they drive each day. If the trucking company encourages its drivers to violate driving laws or falsify records, the company might be held responsible for injuries sustained in a trucking accident.

Pushing or Forcing a Driver

Drivers often know when they can safely drive and when they suffer from conditions that could make them unsafe to take to the road. Some companies may push their drivers to get behind the wheel despite dangerous road conditions, including flood or hurricane conditions. If a company’s policies increase the risk of an accident and lead to severe damage, the company may share liability.

Poor Driver Screening

Companies must carefully screen and monitor their drivers to ensure that they do not pose an unnecessary danger when they take to the road. A company that fails to screen its drivers adequately may employ a driver who lacks the skills needed to protect other drivers who share the road with him, significantly raising the risk of a severe accident.

Inadequate Driver Training

Some companies need to train their drivers to provide them with the skills and support to handle their responsibilities correctly. If the company does not provide that training, it may share liability for an accident caused by that negligence.

Bringing an Insurance Company Car Accident Claim Involving Multiple Parties

Seeking compensation through an insurance claim after an accident is a complicated process. When the car driver and owner have two different policies, whose policy is responsible? Which insurance policy will most likely pay for your losses?

The Car Owner’s Policy

Most of the time, the car owner’s policy will take care of compensation for an accident caused by the driver of that vehicle, even if the driver does not own the vehicle. However, some exceptions may exist to that policy.

Some policies may cover only named drivers.

Some insurance policies provide coverage only for drivers specifically named on the policy. Most people will include only the direct household members on their insurance policies: spouses or children old enough to legally drive, for example. If someone outside that group borrows the vehicle, that driver may not receive coverage under the driver’s insurance policy terms.

Some policies will specifically exclude household members not named on the policy.

Insuring all household members can prove extremely expensive, especially when those household members include teenage drivers. To decrease their overall costs, some vehicle owners may choose specifically not to insure certain members of their household on certain vehicles.

Some policies do not provide the same level of protection for non-named drivers.

Some policies, while they do provide some protection if a non-named driver gets into an accident, may not provide the same protection that they would offer to a named driver on the policy. Vehicle owners who routinely allow others to drive their vehicles should carefully check the coverage offered by their policies to make sure they have adequate coverage in the event of an accident.

The Driver’s Policy

Drivers may carry policies that follow them regardless of what vehicle they drive including a rental car, a borrowed vehicle, or their own car. In those cases, the driver’s policy may offer some compensation for damages caused in the accident.

Other Factors That May Contribute to Liability

In addition to the complexity associated with trying to determine which policy will cover the damages from the accident, other factors may also contribute to the accident and shift the balance of liability — and, as a result, change who may have to pay for any injuries sustained during the accident.

Mechanical Failure

Mechanical failure can impact the balance of liability in several ways. First, if the mechanical failure occurred due to the vehicle manufacturer’s error, the manufacturer may bear liability for the accident. On the other hand, mechanical problems often occur because the vehicle owner fails to maintain it properly.

If those conditions cause a severe accident, the vehicle owner might be liable due to failure to properly maintain the vehicle. In the case of deliberately negligent ownership, the owner may bear direct liability for the accident and any damages that result from it.

What Should You Do After a Car Accident With a Driver Who Does Not Own the Vehicle?

You may learn that the driver who caused the accident does not own the vehicle. The driver may mention it, or you may see a different name on the insurance than the name on the driver’s license.

What should you do?

  • Report the accident. A police report can determine the cause of the accident and establish who may be liable for any damages or injuries you suffered. It can also serve as evidence for your insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit if you need to bring a court case to recover your losses.
  • Collect information from the at-fault driver, including driver’s license, insurance, and the car owner’s insurance information.
  • Seek medical attention promptly. If you suffered any injuries in your accident, regardless of who caused it, do not put off medical care. Instead, see a qualified medical care provider and follow the instructions issued by that care provider to maximize your odds of making a full recovery.
  • Contact an experienced car accident attorney. A car accident lawyer can evaluate the accident, review the relevant insurance policies, and explain who may pay for damages caused by the collision. As your advocate, a personal injury lawyer can also deal with the insurance company on your behalf.

Trust an Experienced Auto Justice Attorney at Michael T. Gibson, P.A. to Protect Your Legal Rights After a Florida Car Accident

Multiple parties may sometimes share liability for a serious car accident, especially when the driver does not own the vehicle. A dedicated car accident attorney can help you pursue compensation from all potential parties that may share liability for the accident, including corporate and individual vehicle owners.

You may deserve considerable compensation for your injuries, and a seasoned car accident lawyer can help you identify all parties that should pay for your losses due to their negligent decisions. Call (407) 490-1271 or complete our simple online form for a free case consultation today.

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