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If Someone Borrows Your Car and Gets in an Accident, Who Is Responsible?

If you own a car, you know that Georgia law requires you to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance. This provides coverage in the event you get into an accident and someone is injured. Since Georgia follows an “at-fault” rule in such cases, your insurance coverage applies to any accident you cause due to negligence. And if the victim’s injuries exceed your insurance coverage, you could be held personally liable for any remaining damages.

But what if you were not driving your car when the accident happened? Say you loaned your car to a friend. Your friend then ran a red light and plowed into another vehicle, seriously injuring its occupants. Does your liability insurance cover the accident? And can you still be held personally responsible even though you were not even in the car at the time?

Insurance Follows the Car

Let’s start with the question of insurance coverage. As a general rule, an auto insurance policy “follows the car” and not the driver. In other words, if you purchase insurance to cover your vehicle, that coverage applies to any accident involving that vehicle. You do not personally have to be at the wheel when an accident occurs.

As with anything involving insurance, however, there are multiple potential exceptions and caveats. Most Georgia auto insurance policies include language that only provides coverage to individual drivers listed on the policy. For example, your policy might only cover you and other licensed drivers who live in your household, such as your spouse or children. If you let a non-listed driver borrow your car, your insurer will disclaim any responsibility for coverage in the event of an accident. In these situations, the friend’s auto insurance policy may apply.

Even if the borrower was a listed driver, however, the insurance company may still disclaim coverage if that person was breaking the law. Say you loaned your car to your teenager even though they do not currently have a valid driver’s license. Your insurance policy almost certainly contains language disclaiming coverage for unlicensed drivers.

Did You Give Consent?

Another key consideration is whether you actually loaned someone your car, or whether they simply “borrowed” it without asking first. As with many aspects of the law, consent is key. If you entrust someone with your vehicle, you can be held civilly liable if they cause an accident. But if you can prove that you never gave consent, then you can generally escape any civil liability. (Your insurance company also will not cover the accident.)

Of course, proving consent can often be trickier that you may realize. Let’s say you have a brother who borrowed your car one time without asking first. If they get into an accident, you probably will not be held responsible. But if your brother has a regular habit of taking the car, and you never made any effort to stop them, a judge or jury might conclude that you implicitly consented to your brother’s actions.

Another consideration here is the legal principle of negligent entrustment. Basically, if you know–or should have known–that someone was too reckless or irresponsible to drive, and you lent them your car anyways, you can be held financially responsible for any accident they cause. In this context, you were negligent in entrusting your vehicle to the reckless driver.

Did They Actually Cause the Accident?

A final consideration is whether the person who borrowed your car was even responsible for causing the accident in the first place. Since Georgia is a fault-based state, it is important to establish whose negligence led to the accident. It is possible that both drivers shared fault to a certain degree. If so, then sorting our liability with your insurance company may be more complicated than you initially realize. Indeed, if the other driver was solely or primarily at-fault, you may have a viable claim against their insurance policy to cover any damage to your vehicle.

Contact an Atlanta Car Accident Lawyer Today

This is only a general discussion of some of the legal principles involved in determining responsibility for a car accident. A qualified Atlanta car accident lawyer can provide you more specific advice tailored to your case. So if you, or someone that you trust, has been involved in a serious accident and you need to know what to do next, contact Ponton Law today to schedule a free case evaluation.