Getting Into a Car Accident in a Friend’s Car: Who Is Liable? The Car Owner or the Driver?

June 12, 2024 | Gary Annes
Getting Into a Car Accident in a Friend’s Car: Who Is Liable? The Car Owner or the Driver?

The car owner’s insurance company is usually responsible when someone’s friend causes an accident in a borrowed vehicle. However, determining liability for an accident caused by someone in a borrowed vehicle can be complex. You may want a car accident lawyer to handle a claim or lawsuit related to such an accident.

A lawyer will ensure you are seeking fair compensation from the right parties. Whether you file an insurance claim (or multiple insurance claims) or a lawsuit, an attorney will take a potentially complex legal process off your hands.


The Car Owner’s Insurance May Cover the Cost of Your Accident

The owner of the vehicle involved in the accident should have insurance. This insurance will generally cover victims’ losses if the friend who borrows the vehicle causes the collision, though state insurance laws will be relevant.

If the owner’s insurance does not cover the total cost of the victim’s losses, the insurance provider for the friend who borrowed the vehicle may be financially responsible. An attorney will evaluate your unique circumstances and determine who owes you compensation for your damages.

Variables That Can Affect Liability When a Friend Causes an Accident in a Buddy’s Car

The issue of liability is often complex. The complexity is even greater when someone causes an accident in a borrowed vehicle. Some of the variables that may affect financial liability for your accident include:

Whether the Car Owner Granted Their Friend Permission

There are two general ways in which someone gains access to a friend’s car:

  1. They ask and receive permission to drive from the vehicle owner
  2. They take the vehicle without the owner’s knowledge

It’s safe to say that most friends get permission to borrow a vehicle, as taking a friend’s vehicle without permission may be illegal (not to mention a friendship ender). However, if someone does not have permission to borrow a vehicle, the vehicle owner or their insurer is not generally liable for a resulting accident.

If the motorist who caused your car accident was underage, your lawyer will determine how the underage motorist gained access to the vehicle. Allowing underage motorists to drive is unusually common in certain areas and cultures, and unlicensed drivers cause accidents.

Those who may be liable for an accident involving an underage driver include:

  • The car owner’s insurance provider (if the owner granted the underage driver permission to operate the vehicle)
  • The car owner (who may be sued for allowing an unfit driver to expose others to danger)
  • The parents of the underage driver (who may be liable whether or not the underage motorist had permission to operate the vehicle)

Your lawyer may have prior experience with accidents involving underage motorists, and this experience can be very beneficial as they lead your case.

The Reason the Accident Happened

The cause of a car accident is almost always relevant when determining financial liability. In the case of a friend borrowing a vehicle, it is especially important to determine:

borrowing friend's car
  • Whether the car owner did anything to contribute to the accident (like failing to replace worn-out brakes)
  • Whether the driver did anything to cause the accident (like speeding or tailgating)
  • Whether the owner and driver share responsibility for the accident

If, for instance, the driver was speeding in a friend’s vehicle with worn-out brakes, both parties may have contributed to the accident. Such considerations are always relevant when determining who should pay for the cost of an accident.

The Insurance Status of the Driver and Owner

Though auto insurance is mandatory in most states, including Illinois, not every driver abides by the law. The insurance status of the driver and vehicle owner may affect how you seek compensation for the cost of your accident.

Scenarios to consider are:

  • If the vehicle driver lacks auto insurance, you may sue them, seek compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance, or sue the driver.
  • If the at-fault driver lacks insurance, you may sue them, particularly if you do not receive adequate compensation through the vehicle owner’s insurance.

A car accident lawyer can file a lawsuit if you need to.

Coverage Limits

Coverage limits within insurance policies are always relevant after a car accident. These limits the maximum payouts that insurers are required to provide.

For instance, if the cost of your losses exceeds the coverage limits on the vehicle owner’s insurance policy, you may then:

  • Access the at-fault driver’s insurance policy
  • Determine whether to sue one or more liable parties

As your lawyer fights for your financial recovery, they will learn of coverage limits and respond appropriately if your losses exceed them.

Insurance Laws in the State

State-level insurance laws dictate:

  • Whether vehicle owners and drivers must have auto insurance
  • The mandatory minimum insurance amounts owners and drivers must have
  • Whose insurance company pays for whose losses in the event of an accident

States fall into two general categories when it comes to insurance laws: at-fault states and no-fault states. In no-fault states, a driver’s insurer will cover certain losses (including medical bills) regardless of who is at fault for the accident. In no-fault states (like Illinois), the at-fault motorist’s insurer has a greater duty to cover victims’ losses.

Your car accident attorney will work within your state’s insurance laws to pursue all the compensation you deserve.

Hiring a Lawyer Means You Don’t Have to Worry About Determining Liability

You can see that establishing liability for a borrowed-vehicle accident can be complicated, but it’s not a problem you need to worry about. Hire a car accident attorney because:

  • Lawyers already know relevant laws and rules: It can take a long time to simply find your state’s insurance rules, and that doesn't even mean you will understand them. Hire a lawyer who already knows the laws relating to your accident.
  • Attorneys have the time and energy your case requires: Your injuries, trauma, and recovery demands may prevent you from meeting the demands of an insurance claim or lawsuit. Your lawyer will have the time and energy to build a compelling case.
  • Law firms bring valuable resources to their clients’ cases: Your law firm may have preexisting relationships with medical providers, mental health professionals, automotive technicians, and other experts who may contribute to your case. Your lawyer will cover the cost of these experts’ services.
  • An attorney will prevent anyone from compromising your case: Those who owe you compensation likely want to pay you as little as possible, even if that means violating your rights. An effective car accident lawyer will ensure this does not happen.

Many car accident victims want to secure a fair settlement but don’t know how to value their damages or obtain that settlement. Matters can become even more daunting when the issue of a borrowed vehicle is in play. Let an experienced car accident lawyer do what they do for you.

How a Car Accident Attorney Will Help with Your Claim or Lawsuit

When you hire a car accident attorney, they immediately become responsible for every detail related to your case. This includes:

  • The insurance claims process
  • Any lawsuit you file
  • Any trial your lawsuit leads to

Some car accident victims initially file one or more insurance claims, then file a lawsuit if liable parties do not offer a fair settlement. However your case unfolds, a lawyer will be prepared to:

Handle the Day-to-Day Details of Your Case

Your attorney will draft all paperwork, communicate with insurers and others involved in your case, keep tabs on the claims process, and handle the other responsibilities required to complete a claim or lawsuit.

Secure Evidence from the Accident

Securing evidence of negligence is a key step in your case. This evidence may show that the vehicle owner, the friend who borrowed the car, or other parties exposed you to danger, and the evidence may include:

  • Eyewitness accounts of the accident
  • Video footage of the accident occurring
  • Photographs of damage to your vehicle
  • Cellular records, if distracted driving was a factor in your accident
  • An expert’s reconstruction of the collison

Attorneys often have investigators whose specific job is obtaining case-related evidence. Having a law firm on your side may lead to a stronger, evidence-backed case for compensation.

Document Your Losses (Known as Damages If You File a Lawsuit)

The details of your damages will be central to settlement talks. Therefore, your lawyer will go to great lengths to prove the nature and value of those damages, and may do so with:

  • X-rays, brain scans, and other diagnostic images
  • All medical bills for accident-related treatment
  • Your doctor's description of your injuries and symptoms
  • Your doctor's explanation of the treatment you’ll need
  • Proof of your inability to work (and past income statements to prove the cost of your work absence)
  • A mental health expert’s diagnosis of your pain and suffering, including but not limited to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

If any other documentation is relevant to your case, your lawyer will gather and incorporate it.

Prevent Bad-Faith Insurance Tactics 

Insurance companies sometimes try to avoid their financial responsibilities by:

  • Blaming the accident victim for causing the accident (which can be a particularly common tactic in at-fault insurance states, such as Illinois)
  • Claiming that one or more of the victim’s accident-related injuries happened before the accident
  • Undervaluing the cost of your losses
  • Extending lowball settlements
  • Delaying the processing of your claim, which may be a tactic to apply pressure on you to accept the lowball settlement

Though Illinois law allows insurance companies to delay the claims process in some circumstances, the insurer must provide a written explanation for the delay. Your lawyer can ensure the insurance company does not delay unnecessarily, as you deserve compensation as soon as possible.

Negotiate a Settlement with Insurers

Your lawyer will organize all proof of negligence and documentation of your damages. They will present their demands to the insurance company, supplementing them with all relevant paperwork.

The insurance company will have the chance to pay you fairly. If your lawyer exhausts settlement talks without receiving the offer you deserve, the next move may be filing a lawsuit.

Lead Any Necessary Lawsuit (and Go to Trial If Necessary)

If your case reaches the point where a lawsuit is a realistic possibility, your lawyer will:

  • Evaluate the best settlement offer you have received to date
  • Explain the potential benefits of filing a lawsuit (and the goal you hope to achieve by filing suit)
  • Explain the realities that come with filing a lawsuit (this means your case can take longer, but the potential financial reward may be worthwhile)
  • Move forward with a lawsuit if you choose to

Your lawyer may continue negotiating with the insurance company after filing the suit, perhaps with a mediator involved. If these final negotiations don’t lead to an agreement, your lawyer will bring your case to court.

Damages Your Lawyer Will Include in Your Car Accident Case

Insurance Claim

Injured car accident victims often face substantial damages that come with a lofty price tag, including:

  • Medical bills, which are among accident victims’ largest expenditures
  • The cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle
  • The cost of temporary transportation
  • Lost income
  • Diminished earning power
  • Pain and suffering
  • The cost of mental health services

Your lawyer will identify and evaluate any other damages that entitle you to compensation. Every accident victim has a unique story; your lawyer’s job is to learn yours.

If you have lost a loved one because of a fatal car accident, a lawyer can be the resource you need. They will lead a wrongful death action on your behalf, demanding justice for your tragic loss.

Hire Your Car Accident Attorney as Soon as Possible

Car accident victims have a limited time to file a lawsuit due to the statute of limitations under state law. Do not wait any longer to hire a lawyer; they will file your case before the deadline expires (circumstances permitting).

Consultations are free and it costs nothing to hire a personal injury lawyer to begin working on your case.

Gary Annes Author Image

Gary Annes


Personal Injury Lawyer With Over Twenty Years Of Experience

Gary Annes, a partner at Abels & Annes, P.C., has dedicated over two decades to practicing personal injury law, specializing in auto accidents, premises liability, wrongful death, medical malpractice, and sexual abuse. Since earning his law degree in 1995, Gary has led numerous jury trials, and adeptly resolved cases through arbitration and mediation, securing millions in compensation for his clients.

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