We all need each other’s help from time to time, especially when it comes to getting a ride. But even the best drivers can get caught in bad situations—and sometimes, our friends are not the best drivers. What happens if your friend causes an accident while driving your car?
Whose Insurance Will Cover Damages Caused By My Friend?
Insurance policies generally cover liability of the named members of a household, taking their records and ages into account to calculate the premium. Typically, a policy will cover “permissive use” for occasional trips by a licensed driver, although it may not provide the same level of coverage as for a named insured. Your own policy may vary on that point, so it is essential to read it carefully. If your friend is an insured Washington driver, their own policy should also cover their liability for bodily injury caused to others during a car accident, even if they were driving a borrowed car.
Insurance companies do not want to cover drivers who are not paying them. They will often look for a way to deny coverage even to drivers that are paying them. If your friend regularly uses your car, or if they have been living in your household, your company may deny coverage on the grounds that your friend should have been named as an insured on the policy. Someone who frequently drives borrowed cars should consider carrying non-owner car insurance for this reason.
Legal liability is not always the same as insurance coverage. The driver, whether or not they drove a borrowed car, is legally liable if they cause an accident, even if they are only partially at fault for the collision. Washington is a “pure comparative fault” state, which means that in most cases someone injured in an accident can recover even if the accident was almost completely their fault. For example, a person who was 70% at fault for an accident can sue the person who was 30% at fault to recover their damages—although, in that case, they could only recover 30% of their damages.
What Kind of Driver Is Your Friend?
Everyone has a friend who’s rough in traffic, who has had more than their share of tickets. Say that this friend’s car is in the shop, so you lend your car to the friend so that he or she can run errands. On their way, they drive aggressively and cause an accident. After the dust settles, you may be sued yourself.
Washington law recognizes a cause of action called “negligent entrustment.” If—
- you own the car
- your friend is an unfit or reckless driver
- you knew that or should have known that when you lent them your car
—then you can be held liable for an accident they caused.
As awkward as it may be, you should think twice before lending your car to someone else if you know that this person is currently:
- A speeder
- An aggressive driver
- Unskilled or inexperienced under the circumstances
- Of advanced age
- Suffering from an illness that could cause impairment
And in other circumstances, your answer should be a flat no. Lending your car to someone who is drunk or impaired or who does not have a valid license to drive is not only wrong but can get you sued.
You can also face liability if your friend was running an errand for you. If you give the car keys to a friend and tell them to go pick up a package or give someone else a ride, they are acting as your agent in doing that. An accident that they cause on that errand could lead to vicarious liability for you.
What Can I Do?
If you have a friend or a non-household family member who frequently drives your car, check your insurance policy. Some policies may specify how many times a “permissive user” can use a car before the company will exclude them from coverage. This could put you both at risk in situations such as road trips, where only one car is at hand, and it has to be passed back and forth. In that case, you should look into your company’s options for adding an insured.