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Owner’s Liability When Someone Else is Driving

There is a common misconception that you cannot be pursued for damages for someone else’s personal injuries if you merely loaned your vehicle to your friend and your friend negligently injured someone while operating the vehicle. You weren’t behind the wheel, you didn’t cause the accident, and you may not have even been in the car, so why would you have any responsibility for the personal injuries of another party? This thought-process makes complete sense, but it doesn’t reflect the law in California. As indicated, the truth is that the owner of a vehicle will be held liable for damages if the person to whom the owner loaned the car is responsible for the death or personal injury of another party. This law is codified in California Vehicle Code Section 17150. However, unlike the fact that the actual driver can be held liable for the full value of the injured party’s claim, the owner of the vehicle can only be held liable up to $15,000 for the death or injury of any one injured party and no more than $30,000 for the death or injuries to multiple parties injured in the accident. This means that the insurance company will not provide a settlement check to any one person for more than $15,000, even if one victim is severely injured and the five others are only minimally injured and the value of each of their individual claims is only a couple thousand dollars. The owner’s liability for property damage is also capped at $5,000. It doesn’t matter how much money the owner has or how many assets he/she owns, the maximum amount for which the owner may be liable is relatively small and is often times not nearly enough to cover the extensive injuries the accident victim may have. This law is codified in California Vehicle Code Section 17151(a). Should the insurance policy not be enough to cover all of the accident victim’s injuries, pursuing the underinsured portion of the victim’s policy is the next step, assuming the applicable insurance policy contains such coverage (see Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage). An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to identify all parties who may be responsible for your injuries and ensure that all possible avenues are pursued in recovering compensation on your behalf, especially if the value of your claim exceeds the insurance policy of the at-fault party (see What’s the Value of a Personal Injury Claim?).

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