What if they get into an accident? This is often the first thought when you allow a friend or family member to borrow your car. The second is – am I liable?
In general, an owner may be liable for any injuries or wrongful death caused by a third party driver of their vehicle. According to California law if an injured or damaged party files a lawsuit, he or she must, in general, sue both the owner of the vehicle and driver for the permissive use statutes to apply.
Permissive Use Doctrine
Under the “Permissive Use” Statute, the owner of a vehicle may be vicariously liable for any injuries resulting from use of their vehicle by anyone using it with the owner’s express or implied permission.
Consequently, both the owner and driver are treated like a single unit and any noneconomic damages assessed to the driver are enforceable against the owner as well.
Are Permissive Use Drivers Covered By My Insurance?
California law mandates auto insurers to cover permissive drivers under an owner’s liability policy. Therefore a valid permissive-use driver is always listed as an “additional insured” under the owner’s policy.
What Is A Valid Permissive Use Driver?
When a motor vehicle owner gives express or implied permission to a person for use of their motor vehicle.
What Is Express Permission?
Clear and unambiguous authorization between the owner and the driver for use of the motor vehicle.
What Is Implied Permission?
Consent from the owner to the driver that may be inferred from the surrounding circumstances.
How Does A Court Determine If The Driver Had Implied Permission?
Depending on the circumstances – permission may be implied from the general nature of the relationship between the owner and driver. Relationships that create a strong inference of implied permission include: husband-wife, parent-child and employer-employee.
By contrast, the court is far less likely to find implied permission when the relationship is based exclusively on a contract – for example a car rental business. Additionally, there is no implied permission when a contract plainly prohibits vehicle use by non-designated drivers
What If I Loan My Car To A Friend To Go To The Grocery Store But Instead He Drives It Out of Town?
An owner may give a driver permission for unlimited use with no restrictions on time, place or purpose. Alternatively, depending on the owner’s prerogative he may limit vehicle access to a certain time, place or purpose. If the owner chooses to place restrictions on the vehicle’s usage – a jury must determine whether the driver diverged from the owner’s limitations.
Who Determines If The Driver Had Permission?
Typically, this is a fact question for a jury to determine whether the driver had the express or implied permission from the owner to use the car. However the court places the burden of proof on the plaintiff to show that the driver was acting with the owner’s consent.
If My Friend Gets Into An Accident With My Car – How Much Am I Liable For?
While the “Permissive Use” Statute creates joint liability between the owner and driver – California Vehicle Code § 17150 establishes a dollar limit on the owner’s exposure. Therefore the owner’s liability cannot exceed $15,000 per injury, $30,000 per occurrence, and $5,000 for property damage. It should be noted that any caps on permissive use liability apply only to the owner’s liability and not the driver’s.
Is There Anyway To Get Around The Dollar Limit Caps?
While these caps apply generally – claimants can evade the dollar limits if they establish a separate, non-statutory basis for imputing liability to the owner such as an agency or employer-employee relationship between the owner and driver. Alternatively, plaintiffs can circumvent the dollar limits outright if they can demonstrate that their injury resulted directly from the owner’s own negligence such as negligent entrustment of the vehicle or failure to maintain the vehicle in good repair.
Please note that this information is only to be used as an informational resource and is not intended to serve as legal advice. If you have any further questions regarding liability arising from permissive use of a motor vehicle please contact an experienced attorney or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org