Chances are good that you have let a friend or family member use your car at some point in time. But did you stop to consider what the consequences might be if they were to get into an accident? What happens if they caused the accident? Did you just assume, like many people do, that if they get in a wreck, they would be responsible? In Florida, if you let someone drive your car, you are also on the hook.
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Insurance Coverage and Permissive Use
The car owner’s insurance policy provides primary coverage in the case of an accident where someone was driving your car, with your permission. If the damages exceed the owner’s policy limit, the driver’s insurance would provide supplemental secondary coverage.
Your insurance policy should specify where other drivers are covered under your auto insurance. However, in general, anyone who is legally driving your vehicle will be covered by your insurance policy. You should check your insurance policy to see if you have a “permissive use provision.” Permissive use refers to anyone who may drive your vehicle occasionally or for a short period of time. The person borrowing your vehicle is then covered the same way you are unless there are provisions that limit the coverage for a permissive user.
Even if you have a permissive use provision in your policy, the person borrowing your car should still have their own insurance. In the event of someone getting into an accident in your car, this would allow a claim to be submitted to their insurance company once you have reached your policy limits. Permissive use protects you from exhausting your policy limits and potentially having to pay out-of-pocket for anything over the policy limits.
Additionally, since the permissive use provision only covers an occasional or short-term driver, if you have someone who uses your car on a regular basis or is of driving age and lives in your home, almost all insurance companies will require that they are added to your policy. In some situations, you may also have drivers who are excluded from being permitted to use your vehicle, and those names would be listed in your policy as well. If an excluded driver uses your car and there is an accident, most insurance companies will not cover any of the damages. And in some cases, the insurance company may void your insurance policy altogether.
Florida Statute 324.021 states that any vehicle owner who
“…loans a motor vehicle to any permissive user shall be liable for the operation of the vehicle or the acts of the operator in connection therewith only up to $100,000 per person and up to $300,000 per incident for bodily injury and up to $50,000 for property damage. If the permissive user of the motor vehicle is uninsured or has any insurance with limits less than $500,000 combined property damage and bodily injury liability, the owner shall be liable for up to an additional $500,000 in economic damages only arising out of the use of the motor vehicle.”
Exceptions to the Rule
While the owner of the vehicle would be liable for damages, there are some exceptions where that is not the case, such as:
- If someone steals your car, you would not be held liable for the injuries caused to the other person, if there were any. Your collision coverage will take care of the damages to your car.
- If a person who is excluded under your insurance policy drives your car and gets into an accident, your insurance provider will most likely refuse to pay for damages.
- If a person who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol drives your car and gets into an accident, your insurance will not cover any claims for damages or injuries.
- If someone does not have a valid driver’s license and drives your car, any accident they have will not be covered. This person is disqualified from any insurance coverage, primary or secondary, because driving without a license is illegal.
- If a friend or family member uses your car without permission, your insurance company should cover any costs which exceed the driver’s insurance policy limits.
Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine
Why is the owner responsible? Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine is “a common law doctrine which provides that the owner of an inherently dangerous tool is liable for any injuries caused by that tool’s operation.” Florida courts have extended the doctrine to include motor vehicles, holding that if someone drove with the owner’s knowledge and consent, then the owner may be liable for damages suffered by third parties as the result of the negligent operation of their vehicle.
An at-fault party in Florida may be liable for damages when the accident results in one or more of the following:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important body function
- Significant and permanent scarring
- A permanent injury identified by a doctor
The driver and the owner could both be liable, even if the owner was not in the vehicle at the time of the crash.
Comparative Negligence Laws in Florida
But what if fault for the accident is shared between 2 drivers? Florida Statute 768.81 addresses comparative negligence fault laws, which are applicable even when another person operates your vehicle.
So, if the person driving your car is found to be partially at fault, then any settlement would be reduced by the percentage of fault. For example, if both drivers in the crash are found to be equally at fault, 50/50, the settlement amount received by the claimant would be reduced by 50%.
Call Us If The Accident Was Not Your Fault
If someone was injured in an accident and was not at fault, it is in your best interests to speak with a knowledgeable attorney about your situation. There are many variables that determine who is liable for any injuries and property damage after an accident.
We are experienced Florida personal injury lawyers who can help you.
We pride ourselves on providing our clients compassionate, honest, and dedicated legal counsel. We are one of Florida’s leading personal injury firms, and have helped countless clients and we can help you.
Contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation or call (727) 381-2300.