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I got hit. Who is responsible, the actual driver or the car's owner/policy holder?

Discussion in 'Auto Accidents, Injuries' started by Brian777, Jul 19, 2021.

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  1. Brian777

    Brian777 Law Topic Starter Member

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    As chance would have it, I had not one but TWO fender benders within one week! (I posted a different question about the first here if this post sounds familiar: I got rear-ended. MUST I go through other driver's insurance to collect for the damages? ).

    About this question though. I was stopped at a red light when I noticed a car to my right, attempting to turn onto the boulevard from the parking lot of a business. It seemed that she wanted to get in front of me, but my car was already too far forward to allow her to pass safely, so I inched forward to indicate that I was not going to let her in (normally I would, but there just wasn't enough room). Well when the light turned green she did try to cut in front of me, at the same time I began to accelerate. She impacted the side of my car (front fender & corner of bumper) with the front of her bumper.

    My research indicates that this was "T-bone accident", in which case the driver whose car was damaged on the front is at fault, not the driver who sustained side damage (me). So I'm assuming she is to blame.

    She was a little "prima donna", wouldn't even speak when we pulled over to assess the damage. She just started snapping pics. I said "I'm going to need your license & insurance info" which she did provide.

    But when I got home and took a closer look at my photo of her insurance card, it had expired. Not only that, but the policy was under a different name (I assume her father, or some other family member – same last name). She's 28 though, so not a minor. I contacted the insurance company but they confirmed that she was in fact no longer covered by them as of 2020.

    So I'm gearing up to A) send her a demand letter for the damages (estimate for my car is $3200-$4000), and B) if she fails to pay, I assume I'd have to take her to court to collect the damages?

    But that's my question–who exactly is to blame if the car isn't even registered to her (which I don't know yet)? It could be hers, or it could be her father's/family member's.

    Does responsibility shift depending on these possible scenarios?
    1) She owns the car but has no insurance.
    2) Her father owns the car but she is not covered by his or any policy.

    I did file a police report after the fact. I'm just not sure if I should contact her father. The insurance company gave me his number. I don't know if he might bear any responsibility.

    Also I did drive by the address on her license to see if her car was parked there and it was, so at least I know where she lives so I can make a demand/send legal documents.

    The damage looks relatively minor, but 3 shops have said it's better to replace the entire fender panel & bumper (pic attached). My car is a 2001 BMW 530i, hers a 2017 Camry.

    Any tips on how best to proceed would be appreciated too!
     

    Attached Files:

  2. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    The driver is to blame (assuming she was negligent), and thus the driver is the person to sue.
     
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  3. Zigner

    Zigner Well-Known Member

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    Tax Counsel is only partially correct. Yes, the driver is responsible for the accident (assuming she was negligent), but the owner is also liable in California (CVC 17150). The owner's liability for property damage is limited to $5,000 (CVC 17151(a))

    CVC 17150 Law section:
    Every owner of a motor vehicle is liable and responsible for death or injury to person or property resulting from a negligent or wrongful act or omission in the operation of the motor vehicle, in the business of the owner or otherwise, by any person using or operating the same with the permission, express or implied, of the owner.

    CVC 17151(a) Law section:
    The liability of an owner, bailee of an owner, or personal representative of a decedent imposed by this chapter and not arising through the relationship of principal and agent or master and servant is limited to the amount of fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000) for the death of or injury to one person in any one accident and, subject to the limit as to one person, is limited to the amount of thirty thousand dollars ($30,000) for the death of or injury to more than one person in any one accident and is limited to the amount of five thousand dollars ($5,000) for damage to property of others in any one accident.
     
  4. Zigner

    Zigner Well-Known Member

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    Be aware that if there is preexisting damage to your vehicle that brings the value to zero, then the driver who hit you in this accident (and/or the owner of the vehicle) can (rightfully) argue that she doesn't owe you anything.
     
  5. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    I have an issue with that. I have a sample CA policy that says the following under Part A - Liability:

    upload_2021-7-19_6-47-21.png

    YOU have a CA auto policy. Take it out and read it. See if it says the same thing or similar wording. If it does, the car owner's policy should say the same thing and covers her as a driver, in the absence of a Named Driver Exclusion or a policy lapse.

    If the information you got is the current car owner's policy call the claims department and remind them of the policy terms and the statute.

    Beyond that, you have the phone number of the car owner. Why waste time with a letter. Call him up, notify him that way, remind him of the statute and go from there. If he balks you have the choice of suing him and the driver or using your collision coverage and letting your insurance company seek reimbursement.
     
  6. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    You are correct with that. California does have something of unique rule here. But as other statutes you didn't quote make clear, the owner's liability under the provision you cited only arises for permissive use of the car (other than as the owner's agent) where the driver of the car was negligent.

    Of course, all the OP knows so far apparently is that the insurance that a relative had on the car is expired sometime in 2020. The OP will need to verify who the current owner of the car is before filing suit against that owner. The car may well have been transferred to the driver, which would account for why the relative let it lapse.
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2021
  7. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    Not correct. As long as new damage can be differentiated from old damage an adjustment can be made and a reduced amount paid.

    Besides, the two collisions were at the opposite ends of the car.
     
  8. Zigner

    Zigner Well-Known Member

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    If the max that the at-fault party is responsible for is limited by the value of the car, and if the current value of the car is $0, then what would be owed?
     
  9. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    There are no cars that have a current value of $0. There is always salvage value even if a car is not drivable, more if the car is drivable even with heavy damage. You even said that the BMW's pre-loss value was up to $8000.

    I could go on with "what ifs" but it's not worth my time.

    :p
     
  10. Zigner

    Zigner Well-Known Member

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    Ok, fair enough - I wasn't looking at it correctly.


    EDIT: (Just because I don't feel like being wrong today) - what I said wasn't actually incorrect from a technical standpoint...but it just doesn't apply because the OP's car, even if previously totaled, would still have a value greater than zero :p
     
  11. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    That said, if the vehicle's value was extremely low before the second accident, the incremental damage inflicted in the second crash is likely to be very small, perhaps to the point it's just not worth chasing.
     
  12. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    She is. Registration is irrelevant unless other facts exist that might make the owner of the car liable.

    Even if she doesn't have insurance of her own, she may be an "Insured" under the registered owner's policy. If the registered owner KNOWINGLY allowed an uninsured person to drive the car, that could give rise to a viable claim against the owner.

    Do you have collision coverage? I believe someone asked you about this in your other thread but you had ignored the question as of last Friday.
     
  13. Zigner

    Zigner Well-Known Member

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    I cited California law show why the owner would (could) be liable.

    I agree that the use must have been permissive in order for liability to attach to the owner of the vehicle.

    The OP did (eventually) respond to my question. To paraphrase, the OP doesn't believe he has "full" coverage (i.e. collision coverage), but wanted to check to make sure.
     
  14. Red Kayak

    Red Kayak Well-Known Member

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    Non-legal, but very practical advice: take a course on defensive driving.

    Which is better: 1) to be "right" and have your car damaged OR 2) to not have your car further damaged.
     
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  15. Brian777

    Brian777 Law Topic Starter Member

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    This just occurred to me. If the other driver was indeed uninsured – as indicated by the expired insurance card she presented & the company's letter stating she's no longer covered by them – should I report her for being uninsured? And to whom, the police? The DMV? Both?
     
  16. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    One answer fits all those questions.

    It's up to you.
     
  17. Brian777

    Brian777 Law Topic Starter Member

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    Would anything happen?
     
  18. Zigner

    Zigner Well-Known Member

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    Based on the damages, you are required to report this accident to the DMV on an SR-1. They will also look for the other driver's SR-1 and follow up from there.
    There is no reason to report this (aspect of the matter) to the police.
     
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  19. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    Huh? If, as I believe you said, the accident resulted in property damage in excess of $1,000, you were obligated to report it to the DMV within ten days after the accident by filing a form SR-1. If you haven't done that yet, then yes, you'd best do it ASAP since you told us on July 15 that the accident occurred two weeks prior.

    You certainly can do that, but I suspect the police will leave this to the DMV to deal with.
     
  20. Brian777

    Brian777 Law Topic Starter Member

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    Ok so I went on the DMV's website and found that you can request a vehicle's ownership record, so I did that. The response came, and it lists two people, one of which was the driver who hit me. But it's confusing because it doesn't state exactly who the owner is. It says "R/O (registered owner I assume) PEREZ DOMINGA ANTONIA, OR PEREZ ANDREA". The second person, Andrea Perez, is the one who hit me – but why does it say "OR"? Does this mean I can sue either of them, both of them together, or what?? How can there be more than one owner for a car? I didn't know that was even possible. I intend to call the DMV tomorrow, but getting a live agent on the line can be hit or miss.
     

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