Who is liable for an accident: vehicle owner or driver?

On Behalf of | Dec 8, 2022 | Personal Injury |

After an accident, you probably know to get the other driver’s information, such as name and contact details. But it is equally as important to get information about the vehicle. You may assume the driver owns the vehicle, but if you are wrong, it can impact your ability to get compensation.

Under California law, vehicle owners are liable for damage done with their vehicles. However, the process is complicated, and there are situations where the owner is not liable.

General liability

If the owner gave permission for someone to use the vehicle, then he or she assumes liability for any accident. However, the driver also has liability. Typically, the driver will have primary liability, but if that person does not have insurance, then it will fall back on the owner and his or her insurance.


The exception for owner liability is if he or she did not give permission for the use of the vehicle. For example, if someone stole a car and causes an accident, the driver has complete liability, and the owner has none.


When it comes to liability for an accident, you will generally deal with the driver first. You would only need to hold the owner responsible if the driver is unable to pay for all the damages. Often, what will happen is the owner’s insurance will pay for claims if the driver has no insurance or does not have enough coverage. You also could take the driver and owner to court for damages.

Keep in mind that owner liability applies in almost every situation, even with commercial vehicles. So, if you have an accident, make sure to gather vehicle data as well.