Your Car Is Stolen And Then In An Accident – Are You Liable?
We get calls every once in a while, where somebody says, I was in a wreck and the car that hit me was reported stolen – is the owner of that car liable?
It’s a good question because you would think that if somebody steals my car, I’m not going to be responsible for it. Well, that’s not exactly correct.
Report The Vehicle Stolen As Soon As Possible
The law forces you as the owner of the vehicle to report that stolen vehicle within a reasonable amount of time, and here’s why. Imagine if you could just report a car stolen and that would alleviate the need for you to be responsible for anything that happens in that car, no matter when it happened.
Let’s say, for instance, you gave your car to a friend of yours on a Monday and Friday that friend drives your car and has a wreck. They returned the car to you on the following Monday and they say they hit a pole and that’s the reason for the damage to the car. You then find out two weeks later that your friend actually hit another car and that person is injured. Now the injured party is coming after you as the owner of the car.
Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine
In Florida, an owner and a driver are equally responsible under Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine. Whatever happens in that car, the owner and the driver are liable, even though the owner is not in the car – they share liability. That owner did do anything wrong other than they gave permission to the driver to drive the car.
However, there’s an exception to that rule that says if the car is STOLEN OR REPORTED STOLEN the owner is off the hook.
Verifying The Car Was Stolen
If your vehicle was legitimately stolen, your liability may be waived because permission was not granted. The owner of the vehicle can only be responsible for an accident caused by someone who was driving his or her vehicle with actual or implied permission.
It has to be a full-blown theft of your vehicle. Somebody that never had permission, there never was any gray area about it – It has to be stolen, otherwise, you’re going to get arrested for filing a false claim.
Does Access To The Car Keys Matter?
Keys also matter from time to time. Whether you gave somebody the keys or not, or they had access to the keys or not, an owner of a vehicle that knows that somebody of driving age is in their house and doesn’t secure their keys can be held liable.
If that person takes the vehicle because you are implicitly allowing them access to your keys, even though you didn’t give them express permission to drive the car, it is going to be questionable. It can be difficult to prove a stolen vehicle at that point if they thought they had permission to use the keys or the car.
In Florida, if your car is 100% really stolen, you should report it as soon as possible because that stops the chain of causation, where you and your insurance company are being held responsible for what happens in that vehicle.
Joe Zarzaur is a Board Certified Civil Trial Attorney whose firm is dedicated to promoting community safety since 2007. ZARZAUR LAW’S AREAS OF PRACTICE: Serious Personal Injury, Product Defect, Auto Accidents, Cycling Accidents, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Products Liability, Wrongful Death, Community Safety, Boat and Jet Ski Accidents, Slip and Fall Injuries, and more. Licensed in Alabama and Florida.
If you’ve been the victim of an accident, it’s important that you don’t make any rash decisions. Put yourself in the best possible position to receive the justice you deserve. It is also important to consult with a Board Certified Trial lawyer who has the knowledge and experience to help you. We know accidents can be stressful and want to make the process as easy as possible for you. Call Zarzaur Law, P.A. today at (855) Hire-Joe for a free legal consultation or visit www.zarzaurlaw.com.
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