What to do if I was involved in what I thought was a minor car accident 3 years ago in a car that belonged to my father but I was not under his policy?

I was not under his policy and was living at his household. Information was changed with other driver though no police report was ever taken. A few days ago I received a summons as well as my father to appear in court and other party is suing me for about $16,000. I’m currently working only part-time and don’t have that kind of money to pay and not sure what to do?

Asked on August 11, 2015 under Accident Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

If the accident was almost but not quite three years ago, it would be too late to be sued for personal injuries (the "statute of limitations," or time within which you must file a lawsuit, has passed for that), but you could still be sued for property (e.g. car) damage. If it was more than 3 years ago, it may be too late to sue at all, and you may have a good defense based on the statute of limitations.

You can ask your father to submit the claim to his insurer, who *may* cover it, but likely do not have to: if you lived in his household, you should have been added to the policy, and the failure to do so may allow the insurer to deny coverage. It's still worth trying.

You are only liable if you were at fault--if the other driver was at fault, then legally, you are not responsible for their damages. Practically, it may be difficult to prove this, since there was no police report and it will come down to your word vs. the other driver's word. That said, the other driver must prove you were at fault to win and you can provide your own testimony or evidence contradicting what he is trying to prove.

The other driver can only receive an amount of money for damages that he can prove: so he would need to prove in court that the damage was caused by you *and* how much it costs to repair. He can't simply make up numbers, but needs to back them up with things like repair invoices.

If he does win and get a judgment against you which you cannot afford, you may need to look into filing for bankruptcy; bankruptcy works against this type of court judgment, so long as you were not DUI at the time.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

If the accident was almost but not quite three years ago, it would be too late to be sued for personal injuries (the "statute of limitations," or time within which you must file a lawsuit, has passed for that), but you could still be sued for property (e.g. car) damage. If it was more than 3 years ago, it may be too late to sue at all, and you may have a good defense based on the statute of limitations.

You can ask your father to submit the claim to his insurer, who *may* cover it, but likely do not have to: if you lived in his household, you should have been added to the policy, and the failure to do so may allow the insurer to deny coverage. It's still worth trying.

You are only liable if you were at fault--if the other driver was at fault, then legally, you are not responsible for their damages. Practically, it may be difficult to prove this, since there was no police report and it will come down to your word vs. the other driver's word. That said, the other driver must prove you were at fault to win and you can provide your own testimony or evidence contradicting what he is trying to prove.

The other driver can only receive an amount of money for damages that he can prove: so he would need to prove in court that the damage was caused by you *and* how much it costs to repair. He can't simply make up numbers, but needs to back them up with things like repair invoices.

If he does win and get a judgment against you which you cannot afford, you may need to look into filing for bankruptcy; bankruptcy works against this type of court judgment, so long as you were not DUI at the time.


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