Less common car accidents can cause some confusion about liability, or who is responsible for damages. If you are involved in an accident while driving your own car, and it was caused by your own negligence, legal liability is straightforward. You are liable, and your insurance will cover the cost of the accident. Or, if the other driver was negligent, they are liable, and their insurance will cover the cost.
But real life isn’t so simple, and there are plenty of scenarios where liability and insurance coverage aren’t simple, either. What do we do in such situations?
Scenario #1 – What if someone else is borrowing my car?
It’s common for friends to borrow each other’s cars, and it’s inevitable that accidents will sometimes occur. So, who’s at fault in this situation?
The important thing to remember here is that car insurance follows the car, not the driver. This means, if you give permission for someone else to use your car, and they are in an accident, your insurance is still liable. If the driver to whom you loaned the car is at fault, you will have to file the claim and pay the deductible, and if your insurance rates increase as a result of the accident, you will have to pay the difference as well.
Remember: when you loan someone your car, you aren’t just lending the car. You are also entrusting the other driver with your insurance policy.
That said, a car accident in a borrowed car differs from an ordinary car accident in a few important ways. For instance, if the car accident is severe, and the damage exceeds your limits, then the other driver’s insurance (if they have insurance) may kick in as secondary insurance, and cover the remaining damages.
Of course, if the person to whom you loaned the car is not at fault, then the other driver’s insurance will be held responsible, just as in any other accident.
Scenario #2 – What if I’m driving a rental truck?
If you’re driving a U-Haul, Penske, or another company, drivers typically need to purchase supplemental insurance to cover damages in the event of an accident. Make sure you do.
Scenario #3 – What if a self-driving car is involved?
Currently, there are no completely autonomous, or self-driving cars available to the general public. There are semi-autonomous vehicles that allow the onboard computer to take over certain driving functions. However, drivers are still required to pay attention. If they fail to do so, they are still considered negligent and are liable for any accident their inattentiveness causes. However, if you are in a “no-fault” state, each party in a car accident is covered by their own insurance.
In terms of self-driving vehicle being tested, the Department of Transportation currently defines the “driver” of a fully autonomous vehicle as the computer. If an autonomous car causes an accident due to a malfunction, it may be a product liability case.
In that case, there are several parties along the chain of production who may be liable, including the manufacturers of the vehicle, the designer or programmer of the autonomous technology, the owner responsible for maintaining the vehicle, the mechanic hired by the owner to maintain or repair it, etc. Many of these disputes will be settled according to the rules of product liability law rather than traditional car accident law.
Because autonomous car liability has not been standardized at the federal level, regulations may also vary significantly from state to state. Stay tuned for more news on this issue.
Scenario #4 – What if I have an accident while test-driving a vehicle?
This is a uniquely awkward situation, and we hope you never have to face it. But unfortunately, this sort of thing does happen sometimes, especially when you’re test-driving a new and unfamiliar model of car.
Car dealerships are required by law to insure their vehicles, and, as we mentioned above, insurance follows the car and not the driver. This means that, in many cases, the dealer’s insurance may cover the costs of the accident, especially in a no-fault state.
However, if you are in an “at-fault” insurance state, and the accident was your fault, the dealer may transfer the costs to you or your insurance, especially if you signed a waiver before the test drive agreeing to take responsibility for any accidents. If the accident was the other driver’s fault, their insurance will need to pay the costs.
Always affirm that a dealer has car insurance before test-driving any of their cars. If you do sign a waiver, drive very carefully, familiarizing yourself with the car’s controls before starting off. Get a feel for the acceleration, braking and turning radius in the parking lot, before getting on the road.
Car accidents can happen at any time and can involve a many unusual circumstances. No matter what happens, the most important thing you can do after being involved in an accident is to seek proper legal representation.
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