Non-Owner of Vehicle Gets in Accident: Who is Liable?

officer on the site of a car crash

If a person loans his/her car to someone such as a relative, friend, or a designated driver, and the driver gets in an accident, the owner may be liable for any fatalities, injuries, or damages.

A motorist who is not the owner can drive someone else’s car for a variety of reasons. For example, a parent loans his car to his teenage son or daughter, who then gets involved in a traffic accident. An employee, driving the employer’s vehicle in the course of business, runs into another car. In both cases, the owner and employer may incur liability.

This is particularly true if there was any negligence involved on the part of the driver. Legally, this is known as “vicarious liability.” Reversing the situation, if a person is hit by a driver who is not the owner of a vehicle, the person hit has legal rights and should work with a car accident attorney to explore the possible sources of liability.


When the driver who is not the owner of the car has an accident, the owner needs to understand how his/her insurance covers this. The general rule is that anyone living in the house is covered when driving the owner’s car.

Car insurance follows the vehicle rather than the driver. If an owner loans their car to a relative or a friend who does not live with them, “permissive use” applies and they will be covered by the owner’s policy.

Non-Permissive Use

In case of an accident:

  • If someone takes the car without permission, their coverage would most likely be primary while the owner’s would be secondary.
  • If an uninsured person takes the car without permission, the owner’s insurance would pay.
  • If someone steals the owner’s car, the owner won’t be liable for injuries/damages to the other vehicle; however, damage to the owner’s vehicle would most likely be covered by the owner’s insurance.

Owner Liability

An owner can be liable when: 1) he allows an unlicensed driver to operate the vehicle; 2) he allows an impaired driver to operate the vehicle; and 3) a driver who is excluded on the car insurance policy gets into an accident.

An owner needs to understand the coverage of his automobile insurance policy. When liability is unclear regarding an accident, the owner may need to consult with a car accident attorney.