What if the at-fault driver didn’t own the car he was in?

When a driver causes an accident in Texas with someone else’s vehicle, a number of different areas of law may come into play:

  • Transportation and safety
  • Negligence and civil liability
  • Employer / Employee law
  • Insurance regulations
  • Criminal law

When at-fault drivers do not have enough money to pay for the damage they cause (or even a car to sell), the injured victims may be left without any compensation for their medical bills and car repairs.

But in some cases, Texas law holds the people or companies who own the vehicle responsible for the harm that vehicle caused.

Texas drivers must have auto insurance and pay for accidents they cause

Texas is an at-fault state

That means when there is an auto accident in Texas, the driver who is at-fault for the accident must pay for harm caused by the accident. This might include property damage and injuries to the other driver, passengers or bystanders involved in the collision.

All motor vehicles driving in Texas must be insured or bonded

Drivers in Texas who cause an accident with their own vehicles make a claim to their insurance company.

All Texas drivers are required to have auto insurance, with certain minimum coverage. But if the insurance policy does not cover all the cost of the damage, the at-fault driver may be financially responsible to pay for the rest.

In Texas, does the insurance policy follow the driver or the vehicle?

In some states, auto insurance policies cover damage caused by the policies’ insureds, no matter which vehicle they drive. Sometimes people say that the policy follows the driver.

In other states, the auto insurance policy may cover any damage caused by that vehicle, no matter who was driving. These policies follow the vehicle.

In Texas, insurance generally follows the vehicle. Even if you have auto insurance on your car, that insurance policy might not cover your accident if you are driving someone else’s vehicle. It depends on the specifics of your policy.

And in some cases, even if a vehicle’s owner was not driving, the owner’s auto insurance policy may pay for damage caused by that vehicle.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Insurance under Texas law

Under Texas law, auto insurance providers must also offer personal injury protection insurance, known as PIP.

No matter who causes an auto accident, a PIP policy allows the following:

  • Insured drivers can file a claim with their own insurance company
  • All passengers and drivers in the PIP insured vehicle may be covered for their injuries

Many Texas drivers waive PIP insurance, but it may be a good idea to pay for PIP insurance in case you are in an accident with a driver who has no money or insurance.

When would vehicle owners be responsible for an accident caused by someone else driving? 

Sometimes the at-fault driver in a car accident does not own the motor vehicle:

  • Employee driver operating an employer-owned vehicle
  • Customers driving a rental car
  • Casual drivers borrowing the vehicle of a friend / family member
  • Thieves / joyriders who have stolen a vehicle

In these cases, there may be more than one person or company that is legally responsible for property damage and bodily injuries caused by the accident.

Negligent Entrustment

Negligence is the legal term for carelessness. Vehicle owners who negligently (carelessly) entrust (lend) their vehicles to an unsafe driver may be responsible for harm the driver causes.

This might happen if the owner knew the driver had a long history of reckless driving (e.g. street racing.)

If someone has a valid license, the vehicle owner can generally assume that person is safe to drive. But vehicle owners also might also be legally responsible for lending their vehicle to a driver that is:

  • Intoxicated
  • Too emotional or tired to drive
  • Unlicensed
  • Driving with a suspended or revoked Driver’s License
  • Driving without glasses or contact lenses (if the Driver’s License requires them)
  • A minor

Owners usually do not need to run background checks on anyone that borrows their cars. But it is wise to be very careful before loaning out your vehicle. Make sure the person driving is someone responsible and safe that you trust.

Family Purpose Doctrine

When parents lend their motor vehicles to their minor children to drive, Texas law makes the parent owner responsible for auto accidents that their children cause.

This is known as the family purpose doctrine.

However, if the vehicle is taken without the parents’ permission, the parents may not be responsible for the accident. Parents might be responsible if they had a reason to know the child might take the motor vehicle and did not take steps to prevent it.

This is sometimes a complicated area of law. If you were in an accident with a driver that was under age 18, you should contact a Texas personal injury attorney to understand your rights.

Auto Accidents Caused By Poor Automobile Maintenance

Under Texas law, automobile owners are required to maintain their vehicles in a safe condition. This includes replacing worn out parts like brake pads and tires. It also includes maintaining working lights (signals, headlamps, warning lights).

If the automobile is not in a safe condition, the vehicle’s owner may be responsible for accidents that happen as a result of the unsafe condition. This is true even if the owner was not driving. The law requires that you maintain your automobile in a working and safe condition before driving. You should also be certain to check it is safe before lending the vehicle to anyone else.

An Employer May Be Responsible for Accidents Caused By Employee Drivers (Vicarious Liability)

Texas law generally makes employers responsible for injury and damages caused by their employees while on the job. This is known as vicarious liability. Vicarious means someone is acting for another.

Therefore, if a driver causes an auto accident while delivering food in a restaurant’s delivery van, the restaurant may be responsible.

There are exceptions if the employee was acting outside the scope of their job. For example, if the delivery driver took the van and drove around running their own personal errands, the restaurant might be responsible. This can also be a complex area of law.

If you were in an accident with a driver that did not own the vehicle, there are many factors to consider. For example, if the driver stole the car, the owner may not be responsible because the owner did not consent.

If you want compensation for your injuries and property damage, contact a Texas personal injury attorney at Justinian & Associates. We offer an entirely free consultation with a seasoned auto accident attorney that knows Texas law and the court system. We will listen to your story and explain your options.