By Steven M. Gursten, attorney and President of Michigan Auto Law
- 1 Introduction
- 2 In order for someone else to operate your vehicle, you must grant them permission
- 3 Your liability for an accident depends on whether your friend was authorized to use your vehicle
- 4 Precautions to take in case your friend gets into an accident while driving your vehicle
- 5 You may be able to sue your friend to recover damages
- 6 As the vehicle owner, you could be held liable for damages caused when your friend crashes your car
When a friend gets into an accident while driving your vehicle, you’re likely to be disappointed. You are also likely to be concerned about being held liable for the personal injuries and damages your friend may have caused. There are several things you should know about your friend’s liability as the driver and your liability as the vehicle’s owner.
In order for someone else to operate your vehicle, you must grant them permission
For your friend to lawfully drive your vehicle, you must have given your consent for your friend to do so. In legal terms, this makes your friend a “custodian of a vehicle” – in that you still own the vehicle and are responsible for its upkeep, but your friend has your permission and authority to operate your vehicle.
If a friend crashed your car, you are liable as the vehicle’s owner for any personal injuries or property damage that occurred while your friend was driving your car with your consent or knowledge. Similarly, your collision coverage for damage to your vehicle may also be affected if your friend had your permission to drive.
Precautions to take in case your friend gets into an accident while driving your vehicle
To avoid issues in the future, consider the following:
- Have a written agreement with your friend. This can be as simple as signing an informal contract stating that you have given your friend access to your vehicle, and they will be responsible for any damage done while they have it. However, if the damage is serious enough to need professional repairs or replacement parts, it’s best to have this formalized so everyone knows what their responsibilities are.
- Make sure the vehicle is insured. If you’re going to lend a vehicle out to anyone—let alone someone who has wrecked another one before—make sure that person has insurance on their own vehicle as well as proof of coverage on yours (like an insurance card).
- Make sure your friend has a valid driver’s license.
You may be able to sue your friend to recover damages
If your friend wrecks your vehicle, you may be able to sue your friend to recover the vehicle damage repair costs. It will depend on whether your friend was at-fault, i.e., whether his or her negligence caused the accident, and whether or to what extent insurance is otherwise going to cover the damage.
As the vehicle owner, you could be held liable for damages caused when your friend crashes your car
Even though you were not driving – and you most likely were not even in the car – you as the owner of your car may still be held liable for any injuries or property damage caused when your friend gets into an accident while driving your vehicle. It will likely depend on the laws of the state in which the crash occurs. Many states have “owner liability” laws that make vehicle owners legally liable for any injuries to persons or property that result from a driver’s negligent operation of a vehicle.
Additionally, someone who has been injured or whose property has been damaged by your friend – who was driving your car with your permission – may also try to hold you liable under a theory of negligent entrustment. That means they would be alleging that you entrusted your vehicle to your friend even though you should have known better, such as if you knew your friend was a bad driver, did not have a driver’s license, and/or was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time you gave him or her use of your car.