15 Jan 2019,

How Do You Know if The Owner or Driver is Liable in A Car Accident?

Here’s an all too common scenario that clients call us for at Levinson Law Group.

A driver is going south on Route 5 during rush hour when the car behind hits the brakes at the last second. Alas, it is too late, and the vehicle rear-ends the vehicle.

The driver gets out of the car and examines the damages. The pain gets a little worse, but the car owner ignores it. At this point, the other driver gets out of the car complaining because their friend who lent them the auto to do some errands will kill them.

When the cops come, they conclude the driver who rear-ended the first car is responsible for the accident.

The damages amount to $10,000 in property damages in addition to medical costs for the stiff neck and back pain. Now it is time to file a claim to recuperate these damages. The challenge is who is the defendant: the driver or car owner?

Who Is Responsible For The Accident?

California Vehicle Code Section 17150 states the civil liability for the accident lies with the other owner.

The owner pays for the insurance. Therefore, the coverage also follows the vehicle and not the person.

An owner must pay the deductible and any resulting premium increases because of the crash, even if they were not in the car at the time.

Since they gave the driver permission to take their car, they are legally responsible for that decision.

However, the next section of California law (17151) maxes out the owner liability:

  • $15,000 per person’s death and injuries coverage
  • $30,000 per incident in death and casualty coverage
  • $5,000 in property damage

If you had an accident, your insurance company has to cover the remaining costs for property and bodily injury claims up to your policy limits.

Collecting insurance from one company is confusing. The complexity of receiving monies from two insurance companies is too time-consuming for most people. Often clients call us at this point for help.

If you have any car accident questions about how to collect the money owed to you, call us at 760-642-5475.


Like most laws, exceptions abound. California realizes that putting a blanket cap on accidents claims is not right in some circumstances. The key is whether the driver or owner was at fault for the crash.

We discuss common scenarios below where the owner would be responsible for all damages.

#1. Unlicensed driver

If an owner gives the car to an unlicensed driver, they are liable for negligence.

In the case of  (1993) 19 Cal. App. 4th 669, 675-676, the courts ruled an owner who lends their vehicle to an unlicensed driver liable for negligence beyond the auto claim.

Based on Vehicle Code Sec. 14604(a) the owner “is required to make a reasonable effort or inquiry to determine whether the prospective driver possesses a valid driver’s license before allowing him or her to operate the owner’s vehicle.”

The issue often happens when parents let unlicensed children drive. In California, Vehicle Code 17707 requires parents or legal guardians to sign a document stating they are liable for a child’s negligent driving.

The parents are civilly liable for damages from licensed and unlicensed underage drivers.

#2. Unsafe car

It is possible for the driver to be innocent in the accident. Sometimes the owner of an auto gives the vehicle to the driver knowing the car is not safe to operate on the road.

When an owner knowingly gives an unsafe car to the driver, they are liable for all expenses related to the accident.

#3. Employee drivers

When the driver of the vehicle is an employee working on company business, then the state waives the owner damage limits we discussed earlier.

The employee is under the supervision of the company. Therefore, it is the company’s responsibility to pay for all injuries and property damages.

A notable exception here is if the employee drives your vehicle off-hours and does something illegal. Therefore, the responsibility falls on the employee to cover the damages.

#4. Giving your car to an incompetent or unfit driver

This area gets into some legal gray areas. The plaintiff must prove you knew the driver was not capable of driving your vehicle.

The legal term for this is negligent entrustment. Typical causes for negligent entrustment include lending a car to:

  • Intoxicated drivers
  • Inexperienced drivers (e.g., minor with a learner permit)
  • Elderly drivers
  • Sickly drivers
  • Drivers with a history of reckless driving


If so, let us know how we can help you collect your settlement. Since we started Levinson Law Group, we recovered over $50 million in settlements for our clients. We can help you go after the right party for the monies you deserve.

Take the first step today by scheduling a free consultation with our Carlsbad car accident attorneys at 760-642-5475 today.