If someone drives another person’s car and wrecks it, the owner’s insurance is likely liable for any damages or injuries, regardless of whether he was even in the car at the time of the accident. However, it is important to note that liability depends on a few factors.
Did the Driver Have the Owner’s Permission to Drive the Car?
The first question any insurance company will ask if someone drives another person’s car and wrecks it is: did this person have permission to drive the vehicle? If so, the owner’s insurance policy should cover him. The driver’s insurance will kick in after the owner’s pays out the policy maximum.
There are two ways that a person can obtain permission to drive another person’s vehicle:
• Being a named insured
• Receiving permission from the owner
The owner specifically lists that person as a “named insured” on his auto insurance policy.
For instance, suppose Ethan’s truck’s title has only his name on it, but he lists his brother, who lives in the same town and occasionally borrows his truck for home improvement projects, as an additional named insured on his insurance policy. If Ethan’s brother wrecks his truck, he is covered under Ethan’s policy even if he did not permit him to drive his vehicle in that specific instance.
Any driver not listed as a named insured is only judged to have permission if expressly granted. Consider the following: two friends, Adam and Brian, are watching the game together. Adam offers to go pick up snacks from the store; Brian allows him to borrow his
car, telling him to come right back afterward.
On the way there, Adam rear-ends another vehicle, causing significant damage to both
cars. Since Adam was driving Brian’s car within the scope of the permission granted to
him, Brian’s insurance should cover the damage just as if he had been driving himself.
Limited Verbal Permission
Now, suppose that on the way back from the store, Adam decides to run a few personal errands. While running these errands, he fails to check his blind spot and sideswipes a van.
This situation is a little trickier, as even though Adam had permission to drive Brian’s car, the scope of the permission did not include running his own personal errands. Because he was driving outside his scope of permission, Brian’s insurance would probably decline to
cover the damage, and Adam would have to file a claim with his own insurance or pay out of pocket. However, Brian will likely have a difficult time proving this, especially if he had previously given Adam permission to use his car to run a personal errand.
The Omnibus Clause and Excluded Drivers
In addition to dictating others as named insureds, Virginia auto insurance policies also contain something called an omnibus policy. It states that family members who live in the same household or are away at school but list the owner’s home as a permanent residence are automatically assumed to have permission to drive the owner’s vehicle.
This generally means the owner’s spouse or partner, plus any kids who are licensed drivers, but can also include parents or other family members who live in the same household.
Certain states allow policyholders to exclude specific drivers from coverage (e.g., Maria excludes her daughter, who is a reckless driver, from coverage). Virginia is not one of those states.
So, owners whose family members take the car without permission and crash it will likely face higher premiums because the insurance will be liable for any damages or injuries.
What If a Driver Takes a Car Without Permission?
If someone takes another person’s car without permission and crashes it, chances are that person’s insurance will be liable for any accident that occurs. However, this can be more complicated if prior permission existed. For example, Cathy lets her friend Dana borrow her car once a week to get groceries. Dana needed to go to a doctor’s appointment so she took Cathy’s car without permission and crashed it.
While Cathy did not give Dana permission to borrow her car for that trip, she had given her permission to use it prior to that. Dana’s insurer might claim that because prior permission existed, Dana thought she was free to use the car whenever she needed it and is
therefore not liable for the accident costs.
Still Have Questions? Speak with a Car Accident Lawyer in Virginia.
The attorneys at Tronfeld West & Durrett understand the complexities of Virginia’s insurance laws we can help drivers sort through any accident situation. Our legal team works to shield our clients from liability and win any compensation for which they are eligible. Call 804-358-6741 to set up a free consultation today.