All about owner’s liability
Our attorneys are always asked what happens if someone else is driving your vehicle and they’re involved in a car accident.
I’ve provided some information below that will hopefully help drivers understand this common issue:
In many states, the titled owner of a motor vehicle can be liable for personal injuries caused by the driver of their car — even though the titled owner was not driving it, and wasn’t at the accident scene.
This is the case in Michigan. Liability is based on ownership, even if the owner did nothing but let someone else drive his or her car.
This may seem unfair, but there are important policy reasons for doing this:
- States want to make sure insurance coverage as the owner is more likely than insurance for the driver.
- States want to make sure the owner doesn’t lend the vehicle to someone who is an unsafe driver.
This protects us all. Liability can be based upon the ownership liability statute, where there is strict liability for the owner, unless there are very specific exceptions.
Vicarious liability and negligent entrustment to an knowingly unsafe driver
Where a car owner lets another person drive a car, most states will treat the car owner as sharing liability for any car accident caused by the borrower.
The car owner’s liability may be predicated on statute, like owners liability; or on common law principles such as negligent entrustment, or vicarious liability where person driving car is considered an “agent” of the owner.
Owner liability ordinarily involves the permissive use of a vehicle. That is, the owner gives the borrower permission to use the car, or knowingly agrees in their use of the vehicle. Depending upon state law, in the event of an accident, a member of the owner’s household may be presumed to be driving with the owner’s permission.
Owner liability does not ordinarily extend to non-permissive uses of a car, although an owner’s negligence may sometimes cause liability to follow even where a car is stolen. For example, some jurisdictions will hold an owner liable if they leave the keys in the ignition of the car, and their car is stolen and subsequently involved in an accident.
Where the owner of a vehicle is a government agency, sovereign immunity may apply.
This can be a very confusing issue. Feel free to call our attorneys at for free advice. We can explain your rights after an accident where the driver of the car may be different than the owner.
This blog post was adapted from a CNN Money article, where I was interviewed as an attorney source. Here’s the article: Am I liable is my sons cause an accident?
- Steve Gursten is an attorney and head of Michigan Auto Law. He frequently writes and speaks about Michigan No-Fault and auto insurance, and is available for comment.
Michigan Auto Law is the largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights. Call to speak with one of our attorneys, free of charge, today.