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When Are You Liable for Another Person’s Driving?

Colburn Law

Owner's Liability When Someone Else is Driving

Washington is a fault insurance state, which means that at-fault drivers are financially liable for any accidents they cause. What many drivers do not realize, however, is that their liability is not limited to when they are behind the wheel; they may also be liable for any accidents someone else caused while using their car.

Who Does an Insurance Policy Cover?

Many drivers allow others to borrow their vehicles. Insurance coverage usually extends to members of the vehicle’s household, or anyone living in the insured’s household who is related to the insured by blood, adoption, or marriage. In some cases, a roommate or housemate is also covered under the insured’s policy.

If a person who is not specifically covered in the insurance policy wants to borrow a vehicle, permissive use may apply. Permissive use means that the insured overtly allows the other person to use his or her vehicle. In some cases, the insurance company also extends coverage to permissive use. Not all policies offer this coverage, so it is important to check the policy before lending the vehicle to another person.

Negligent Entrustment in Washington State

In Washington, drivers may be liable if they lend their vehicle to an incompetent, reckless, or unfit driver. If the negligent driver causes an accident while using the borrowed vehicle, the insurance policyholder will be liable for the damages resulting from the collision. This is known as negligent entrustment.

For a victim to seek compensation from a vehicle owner who was not driving the vehicle, he or she will need to prove that the owner knew or should have known that the driver was unfit. Lending a vehicle to the following types of people could result in negligent entrustment liability.

  • A driver who does not have a license
  • A minor or underage driver
  • A driver with a previous history of negligent or reckless behavior
  • A person who suffers from an illness that could affect his or her driving
  • A very elderly person whose advanced age makes it difficult for him or her to drive
  • A person who is drunk, on drugs, or likely to become intoxicated

Employer Liability for Employees’ Driving

Negligent entrustment is not the only situation where a vehicle owner may be liable for another person’s driving. Under Washington state law, employers are generally liable for the actions of their employees while they are performing their job duties. If an employer lends his or her car to an employee for business purposes, the employer may be liable for any accidents that the employee causes.

What to Do If You Are in an Accident with a Negligent Driver

If you sustain injuries in a Washington car accident, you have the right to pursue a lawsuit or insurance claim against the driver responsible for the collision. You may also be eligible to file a claim against the owner of the vehicle, even if he or she was not operating the car at the time of the accident. Take the following steps to preserve evidence and protect your right to compensation.

  • Call 911 and report the accident to law enforcement.
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible and save all related records.
  • Exchange contact, license, and insurance information with the other driver. Collect information for the vehicle owner as well.
  • If there are any witnesses, ask for their contact information.
  • Document the scene by taking as many photographs of the scene, your injuries, and vehicle damage as possible.

After seeking medical treatment, contact a Bellevue car accident attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will review your case and determine your optimal path to recovery.