What are my rights as a new but still unregistered vehicle owner regarding a car accident?

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What are my rights as a new but still unregistered vehicle owner regarding a car accident?

I had my car damaged while it was parked; I’m planning of taking defendant to court. I have a witness that observed the whole incident. Car is not yet registered under my name. The police officer that was on scene took down the report with the former owner’s name because all they asked is for was registration and insurance. Once I amend the report to my name, must the former owner still show up in to court? Can I still sue the at-fault party?

Asked on December 3, 2010 under Accident Law, New Jersey

Answers:

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

It would be advisable for the registered owner to write a declaration under penalty of perjury stating that you are the owner and that the registered owner had released his/her interest in the vehicle to you prior to the accident. You could also use the purchase/sale documents as evidence supporting that you are the new owner. 

After the ownership issue is resolved, you could file a claim against the other driver's insurance carrier for the property damage to your vehicle to try to settle the case without going to court.  If the driver who hit your car did not have insurance, it would be preferable to postpone resolving the vehicle ownership issue because it may be necessary to file an uninsured motorist claim through the registered owner's insurance policy if you had not taken out insurance on the vehicle prior to the accident.  This would be advisable to avoid a gap in insurance coverage and the insurance carrier denying the uninsured motorist claim.  If you had your own insurance in effect at the time of the accident, then you can proceed with resolution of the ownership issue without being concerned about a gap in coverage.

If you are dissatisfied with settlement offers from the insurance company for the property damage to the vehicle, then it would be appropriate to file a lawsuit against the other driver for negligence.  The former owner's declaration under penalty of perjury that you are the owner should be sufficient in lieu of the former owner appearing in court.


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