What can we do if my son’s car was parked on the side of a street when it was hit by a drunk driver who was arrested and put in jail?

UPDATED: Jan 9, 2015

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What can we do if my son’s car was parked on the side of a street when it was hit by a drunk driver who was arrested and put in jail?

He was driving a car that did not belong to him. My son’s car is totaled; it was only worth $3,000-$4000. He only had liability coverage and no coverage for uninsured motorists. The police report gives the name of the car owner, so my son has tried to contact him via his telephone number but no success. The driver is still in jail and unreachable, though it’s doubtful he had any insurance. It is looking like my son’s only hope for recovering damages is to file a claim in small claims court. In that case, should the driver and the owner both be named in the suit and do you have any suggestions about how to proceed?

Asked on January 9, 2015 under Accident Law, Washington


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

It would be best to file against both the driver and the owner, since that maximizes the chance of recovering something. The driver may be liable as the at-fault driver: being DUI and hitting a parked car certainly seems like he was "at fault" in the accident. The owner may be liable if he gave the driver permission or authority to driver, since vehicle owners can be liable for the damage done by permitted drivers. (If the drunk stole the car or otherwise took it without the owner's permission, however, the owner would not be liable.)

Insurance certainly makes it easier to collect, but you can collect from someone without insurance, from their owner personal assets or income, and including by, if necessary, taking collections actions such as garnishing wages, levying on a bank account, executing on property, etc. It is often worthwhile suing even if there is no insurance.

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