Who is liable for an accident – the owner of the vehicle or the driver?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Who is liable for an accident – the owner of the vehicle or the driver?

I had added a friend’s car that I was contemplating buying to my existing policy but had not yet purchased. I loaned the car to a friend who was down on his luck and had gotten a job but it was off the bus line. While he was driving, a car pulled in front of him and they collided. This was last year and I just started getting letters and calls from the other person’s insurance company saying there is a claim against me and the driver I lent the car to for $2252 for damages. My friend told me that they had settled up a couple of months after accident. Would I even be liable or the owner? The car has long since been gotten rid of. Inoperable.

Asked on October 29, 2016 under Accident Law, Texas


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

Both can be liable: the driver is liable if he or she was at fault in causing the collission--for example, driving negligently or carelessly. Unfortunately, the law presumes or assumes that the rear driver in a rear-end collission was negligent and therefore liable, because the assumption is that he should have been traveling at such speed and paying sufficient attention that he could stop, even on short notice, in time.
The owner of a car is also liable if the driver is liable: the owner is liable the actions of those allowed to driver his or her car (i.e. those who don't steal it or go joyriding without permission). This extends to those allowed by the persons the owner lets drive it to drive: so if A lets B drive A's car, and B lets C drive it, if C is at fault in an accident, A can be liable, too.
If you were not the owner at the time, then it should be the person who was still the owner who is liable. But "ownership" is judged by all the circumstances, not just on the title, in cases like this. If you were in the process of buying the car, had control of it, and had added it to your policy, a court court could find that for this purpose, you were the owner then.

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