If I’m in jail and someone steals my car and has an accident, am I liable?

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If I’m in jail and someone steals my car and has an accident, am I liable?

I’m being sued for someone stealing my car while I was in jail and hitting someone. Am I legally liable?

Asked on June 26, 2012 under Accident Law, New Jersey

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

No, you should not be liable; a car's owner is liable for permitted uses of his car (that is, when he let's someone take it), but not when the car is taken without his permission, such as by being stolen. You should have a good defense to liability in this regard, by showing that the thief had no connection to you and no permission to take your car. One exception: if it can be shown that you were so negligent, or careless, in securing the car that you essentially facilitated the theft or made it much more likely--e.g. leaving keys in it; giving keys to an untrustworthy individual to hold, who then stole the car; leaving the car unlocked and unsecured in a particularly high-crime area; etc. (And if you "commissioned" the theft, such as for an insurance scam, you'd of course be liable, too.)


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