Visitor Question

Am I Liable for Damages if I Did Not Authorize the Driver to Use My Car?

Submitted By: Anonymous (California)

I was in the middle of a divorce and my husband allowed a girl to drive our car in order to make me mad. She ended up totaling it the day after I received the final divorce papers. She’d been driving it off and on throughout the entire divorce without me knowing.

Do I have any rights when it comes to insurance or taking legal action since my name was on the insurance policy when she first started driving it?

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.


Dear Anonymous,

So many of your rights revolve around the Divorce Decree.

The true owner of the car is the person who can give consent to a 3rd person to drive the car. The person who insures the car has no legal rights to its ownership. Insurance is entirely different than ownership.

If your name is on the title and the girl totaled your car you have every right to file suit against her, but there’s more…

It gets a little more complicated if the Court awarded the car to your husband in the divorce decree. If your name was on the title at the time of the collision, but the Court had already awarded the car to your husband in the divorce, a serious conflict will arise.

To determine whether you have the right to sue the girl you will probably have to file with the divorce court what is called a “Petition for Declaratory Judgment”. In the Petition you will be asking the Court to clarify ownership of the car at the time of the collision.

If the Court rules whoever’s name was on the title at the time of the collision was the true owner, and your name was on the title at that time, then you would be in a strong position to file suit against the girl.

On the other hand, if the Court declares in its ruling the car’s ownership had already been transferred to your ex-husband by virtue of the divorce decree at the time of the collision, then you will lose your right to prevail in a lawsuit against the girl.

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

Best of luck,

Published: August 21, 2011

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