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Car Owner vs. Driver: Who’s Liable In A Car Accident Involving A Non-Owner in California?

In most car accidents, the party driving the car that crashes into another vehicle is the owner of that car. But that is not the case in 100 percent of all situations. There are many instances when the at-fault party is not actually the owner of the vehicle. In that case, who should be held liable for the damages, the owner or the non-owner who was driving the vehicle at the time of the crash?

The answer is: “It depends.” While it may seem that the driver is always to blame for his or her own actions on the road, it is not the case, says our Oceanside car accident attorney at the Law Office of Edward J. Babbitt, APC. This article will be especially interesting to read to those who have been injured in a motor vehicle crash due to a driver who does not own the vehicle that crashed.

Car Owner vs. Driver: Who Is Liable for The Accident?

Let’s review several different scenarios to determine liability in situations where the at-fault car driver is not the owner of the vehicle. Let’s imagine that Kim lends her car to Kylie. Kylie then drivers Kim’s car into Kendall’s car, causing her minor injury and property damage.

In that case, Kim will be fully responsible for the damages, since she is the owner of the car, and Kylie drove the car with her permission. But let’s imagine that Kylie, driving Kim’s car, causes Kendall severe injury and totals Kendall’s car. Kendall’s damages total more than $500,000, way more than what Kim’s insurance policy covers. Will Kendall be able to sue Kylie for the difference?

“Not really,” says our experienced car accident attorney in Oceanside. “But Kendall might be able to sue Kim for additional damages, while Kylie will still not have to pay anything since she was driving Kim’s car with her permission.”

In other words, under the legal doctrine of vicarious liability, whoever owns the car is liable for any damages caused by that car in an accident regardless of who was behind the wheel at the time of the accident. That, of course, if the owner gave his/her permission to use the car.

The Doctrine of Negligent Entrustment in California

Also, there is a thing called the doctrine of negligent entrustment. This doctrine applies in cases when the owner of the car lends his/her car to someone who is unfit to drive. Under negligent entrustment, the car owner will be held liable for any damages and injuries caused by the non-driver if the latter is:

  • Under the influence of alcohol or drugs;

  • Without a valid driver’s license;

  • Under the age of 16;

  • Unexperienced or incompetent;

  • Elderly;

  • Impaired by illness (depends on the circumstances and the non-owner’s condition); and

  • Known to have a history of driving recklessly or violating traffic rules.

If you have been in a car crash in which the other party was driving someone else’s car, consult with our Oceanside car accident attorney at the Law Office of Edward J. Babbitt, APC. Let our skilled lawyers review your particular case and establish liability. Call our offices or fill out this contact form to get a free consultation.