Am I liable for (unknowingly) letting an intoxicated person drive my car?

by Lisa
(Salt Lake City, Utah)

I met up with a friend who did not seem intoxicated. We decided to go to dinner and he asked to drive (he has driven my car many times over the last 4 years), so I handed him the keys. He floored it through a stop sign into traffic, causing a car to crash into us. Both cars were totaled and he was arrested for a DUI.

He was apparently drinking at another bar before I met up with him. I have full coverage and my insurance company is paying out the claim. The two people in the other car suffered one broken knee and one fractured elbow.

Am I the one liable for personal injury claims and lawsuits from these people, or is the insurance company, or is the person who was driving who caused the crash? He does not have his own insurance. Could I be considered responsible because I gave an intoxicated driver the keys, even if I didn't know he was intoxicated? Thanks.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Am I liable for (unknowingly) letting an intoxicated person drive my car?":

Lisa (Salt Lake City, Utah):

Let’s take the issues you've raised one at a time...

Whether you knew the driver was intoxicated or not has little or no bearing on your liability to the injured parties. You are the owner of the car and as a result are liable for property damage and personal injuries caused, whether they were caused by an intoxicated driver or a sober driver.

However, the injured parties also have a claim of negligent liability against your intoxicated friend. Unfortunately, once the injured parties find out your friend was uninsured they will likely not pursue him. This presumes your friend has no assets which the injured parties might seize after a court judgement.

The insurance company has no legal liability. They had no involvement in the crash. They are merely the company which provided insurance.

Your liability for permitting your friend to drive would only be an issue if the property damage and injury claim can't be settled and ends up in court. You would then be entitled to put forward your absence of knowledge about your friend's intoxication.

However, even that issue would be precarious as it would be hard for you to convince a jury you didn't know your friend was drinking. You undoubtedly knew he was drinking, even if you didn't know he was intoxicated. Letting someone who has been drinking drive a car, regardless of knowledge of intoxication would be considered irresponsible.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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