Who Is Liable, the Car Owner or the Driver?

AUTHOR: A.J. Bruning | January 16, 2024
Who Is Liable, the Car Owner or the Driver?

Being in a car accident can be a stressful experience, and the financial repercussions can only add to the burden. Liability is always hard to pin down when an auto accident occurs, but this can be even more complex when a borrowed car is involved.

Who Is Liable, the Car Owner or the Driver

If the driver involved in the accident is not the vehicle's owner, things can get a little more confusing when figuring out who is liable and whose insurance coverage will apply to cover your damages.

You should speak with a car accident attorney in Kansas City if this sounds like your situation. An attorney's job is to ensure that you receive appropriate compensation, whether it means initiating legal action against the car owner or the driver.

Your attorney can assess the facts of your case to understand all relevant circumstances when identifying the liable party and filing a compensation claim.

Schedule A Free Consultation

The Car Owner vs. the Car Driver: What's the Definition?

Most car accidents involve drivers who own the involved vehicles. However, some accidents involve people driving a car that legally belongs to another owner. The driver and owner are not always the same person. This alone can make the determination of liability more complex and multifaceted when an accident occurs.

  • Driver: The car driver is the individual behind the wheel driving the vehicle. The driver's primary responsibility is to operate the vehicle safely and follow traffic rules and regulations to avoid hurting those around them. The driver owes a duty of care to everyone on the road, including pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers.
  • Owner: The car owner is the registered owner of the vehicle and is responsible for all legal aspects of owning a vehicle, such as registration, licensing, and insurance. If the registered owner is not behind the wheel of a car, they still have legal ownership and control of the vehicle.

The driver and the car owner have distinct roles and legal responsibilities. When the driver and the vehicle's owner are two different persons, the question of liability will usually come into play when it is not immediately apparent whose insurance pays for the damages.

Permissive Use Clause in Auto Insurance Policies

Most auto insurance policies contain a permissive use clause. Permissive use refers to a clause in auto insurance policies that lets other people drive your car with your permission.

Such people may include your relatives, friends, business associates, and other authorized drivers. In most cases, car insurance policies cover the driver and the car involved in an accident, regardless of who is driving it. However, permissive use is not absolute.

If someone driving your car gets into an accident caused by their negligence, your insurance provider might deny your claim. This is why it is important to be careful about who you allow to drive your car.

Auto Insurance Policies

In some cases, the car owner and driver may be liable for the damages incurred in an automobile accident. This typically occurs when the driver is using the car within the scope of the owner's permissive use but is still acting negligently while operating the car.

For example, if a driver was texting while driving the car, they borrowed with permission, and both the driver and the car owner can share liability for any damages incurred in the accident. This is because the car owner had permitted the driver to use the vehicle, but the driver engaged in negligent behavior while driving.

Compensation Options When a Non-Owner Causes a Car Accident

If you happened to have been in a motor vehicle accident due to someone who wasn't the vehicle's owner, you may be wondering what your options for compensation may be. You may recover considerable compensation for your damages as a victim.

The only thing left to figure out is what avenue of compensation to pursue:

  • Primary insurance: If the vehicle driver that caused the accident has their own insurance policy, their insurance company will typically be considered the primary insurer. In other words, the driver's insurance policy will be responsible for paying the damages up to the limits of their policy. However, if the damages' cost exceeds their policy's limits, the driver will typically be personally responsible for covering the remaining costs.
  • Secondary insurance: The vehicle owner may also have an insurance policy that can provide secondary coverage. The owner's policy may cover the damages that exceed the driver's policy limits. However, this is not always the case. Some vehicle owners may not have insurance or a policy with exclusions that will prevent coverage.
  • Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM): In situations where neither the driver nor the vehicle owner has insurance or their policies do not have enough coverage, the injured victim may have their own uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. This type of insurance can help cover the costs of damages and medical bills when the at-fault party does not have enough insurance to cover the costs. Statistics show that about 12.6 percent of U.S. motorists are uninsured, which is why you need UM/UIM coverage to stay protected. 
  • Legal recourse: When dealing with a non-owner who caused an accident and does not have insurance to cover the costs, the victim can also take alternative legal recourse. This can include suing the driver or working out a payment plan with them to cover the costs over time. However, these options can be time-consuming and often require legal assistance.

When you doubt which compensation is available, you should speak with an experienced attorney. Your attorney will do the hard work for you so that you don't have to worry about a thing while recovering from your car accident injuries.

Liability for Accidents Caused by a Child Driving a Parent's Car

Statistically speaking, teens aged 16 to 19 are more likely to get into a motor vehicle accident than any other age group in the U.S. Liability for car accidents caused by teens driving their parent's car is not always easy to determine. 

Generally, the child's parents can bear responsibility for any damages and injuries their children cause. For example, you can prove negligence if the parent knew or should have known about their child's reckless behavior behind the wheel and failed to prevent it.

Suppose the minor was driving a family car at the time of the accident. In that case, the parents can share full or partial responsibility even if they were not negligent in the child's supervision. The parents are legally responsible for properly maintaining a vehicle and ensuring it is safe to operate. If they failed in this duty and the car malfunctioned, you can hold them responsible for any damages.

4 Examples of Negligent Entrustment in Car Accidents Involving a Non-Owner

Negligent entrustment is a legal doctrine that holds vehicle owners responsible for the actions of someone they allow to use their vehicle. The doctrine relies on the principle that if someone else causes an accident while driving your vehicle, they can hold you – as the owner – responsible for that person's negligence.

In situations where a non-owner causes a car accident, negligent entrustment may apply if evidence proves that the vehicle owner knew or should have known that the person they entrusted with their vehicle can pose a danger to others.

Examples of situations where the negligent entrustment doctrine may apply include:

Compensation Options
  1. Allowing an unlicensed driver to drive: Allowing a driver with no driver's license or a suspended or revoked license to use your vehicle is a common example of negligent entrustment. Moreover, it is illegal for an unlicensed driver to be on the road, and if an accident occurs, the vehicle owner can face civil and criminal liability. Therefore, when allowing someone to use your vehicle, ensure you check their driver's license and verify that it is valid.
  2. Knowing the driver is intoxicated: If you knowingly allow someone who is impaired by alcohol or drugs to drive your vehicle, you may be guilty of negligent entrustment. Driving under the influence (DUI) is a severe offense that can result in devastating consequences. If an intoxicated driver causes an accident, you can bear full or partial responsibility as their vehicle owner.
  3. Permitting a minor to drive: Minors are not legally allowed to drive without adult supervision. You can face liability when you give your vehicle to a minor, and an accident occurs. It is vital to only lend your vehicle to people you know who have driving experience and are licensed to drive. The requirements for getting a driver's license for an underage person vary by state. For example, Missouri law requires that all first-time drivers aged 15 to 18 must complete an instruction permit period (driving with a licensed driver) and an intermediate (restricted driving) license before obtaining their full driver's license. 
  4. Lending a car to someone with a poor driving record: If you knowingly give your vehicle to someone with a history of reckless driving, you can face liability for any damages or injuries that the driver causes. Before allowing someone to use your vehicle, review their driving history to ensure they have a good driving record.

If you have suffered an injury in a car accident caused by a non-owner entrusted with the vehicle, it may be possible to hold the vehicle's owner responsible through a negligent entrustment claim. This will require proving that the owner knew or should have known that the driver was unfit to operate the vehicle safely. You can recover damages for medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering if successful.

How Can an Attorney Help You Establish Liability? 

When you are involved in an accident with a driver who does not own the vehicle involved in the crash, not knowing who is liable can add a layer of complexity to your case.

Fortunately, you do not have to sort this out by yourself. You can hire an attorney to closely examine and investigate your car accident and provide the legal guidance you need. Below are some of the ways an attorney can help when establishing liability: 

Explain your rights

Following the accident, you may not know your legal rights, which may make you an easy prey for insurance companies. Hiring an attorney allows you to understand your rights and the legal procedures for pursuing compensation.

An attorney will explain how to file a claim, what amount of compensation you can seek, and the timelines involved in the legal process, among other aspects.

A skilled attorney will honestly explain the legal options available to you. Your options for pursuing compensation may include filing a lawsuit, negotiating an out-of-court settlement, or mediation. Each case is different, and an attorney will guide you in making the most effective decision in your specific case.

Investigate the facts of your case.

Investigating the crash's circumstances is vital in determining who is legally responsible when the car owner and the driver are not the same person.

An attorney has the necessary investigative and legal resources to help establish liability. This includes reviewing police reports, talking to witnesses, collecting evidence, and getting expert witnesses to provide expert opinions.

Anthony Bruning
Car Accident Lawyer, Anthony Bruning

Assess the full extent of your damages.

An attorney can also help calculate your damages, including medical expenses, loss of earnings, lost income, emotional distress, and the future impact on your life. An attorney will ensure that you accurately evaluate the full extent of your damages to ensure you do not settle for less than you deserve.

Negotiate a fair settlement on your behalf.

Insurance companies and other parties involved in the legal process may attempt to settle the matter as quickly as possible, but not necessarily in your favor. Your attorney will use their negotiation skills to help reach an adequate settlement and ensure the insurance company does not exploit you.

Represent you in court.

If you and the opposing party cannot reach an agreement, your attorney may advise you to file a lawsuit. If this happens, your car accident attorney will advocate for your rights in court to secure a favorable outcome.

A.J. Bruning


I was born and raised to represent individuals who have been needlessly injured. I mean that literally. At a young age my father would tell me about the clients he was representing. I would meet them and take pride in their admiration of my father. I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer and represent clients that needed my help.

Author's Bio

You Might Also Be Interested In