It’s not unusual that a person who owns a car occasionally has other people drive it. From a friend driving you home from the bar to your sister or babysitter picking up your kids, you have most likely handed your keys over to someone else to use your vehicle for any number of reasons. Car insurance companies anticipate that this will happen, but that these drivers do not have to be added to the policy. Any regular drivers of the vehicle need to be on the policy, but if your friend needs your truck to move some furniture, for example, then they would be considered a permissive driver. When someone drives the car other than the owner in California, it’s important to understand what happens with your car insurance if that other driver, such as a friend or relative, gets into an accident.
What is a permissive driver?
A permissive use driver is someone who uses your car periodically, about 12 times or fewer per year. In the state of California, car insurance companies are legally allowed to reduce coverage limits for any driver that is not listed on the policy, which means that if your permissive driver was involved in an accident in your vehicle, then the coverage could be reduced to the California state auto insurance minimums, rather than your usual coverage minimums.
Car insurance follows the vehicle, not the driver. Your car insurance is for the car, not a form of health insurance, although it can cover damages from personal injuries related to car accidents. So if your car is damaged while in operation by another person, then your insurance will serve as the primary coverage, and then the driver’s insurance will kick in as secondary coverage if there are leftover damages.
This is why lending your car to a friend or family member can end up becoming an expensive favor if they get into a car accident while using your vehicle. The protection you have only goes up to your coverage limits, so if the permissive driver is involved in a very serious accident, then the damages may go beyond your policy’s limits. You face unlimited liability if the driver was acting as an agent or an employee for you. For example, if you loan your car to your friend so they can run errands for you, or to a nanny pick up your kids from school, and that driver gets into an accident using your car, then you could face unlimited damages for their negligent driving. The reason is that they acting as your agent at the time of the accident.
When is the owner negligent?
There are some cases when the owner of the vehicle can be held liable for negligence in lending their vehicle to the driver. For example, if you loan your car to someone who does not have a valid license or has a history of DUIs (in which case, their license may already be suspended), and you did not ask about their license status before letting them in your car, then you can be found negligent for letting your car to them. According to California Vehicle Code Section 14604(a), no owner of a motor vehicle can knowingly allow another person to drive their vehicle unless the owner has determined that the other person has a valid driver’s license.
If your friend has wrecked your car, then you will need to contact a car accident lawyer in Fresno about filing your suit.