Hit By A Stolen Vehicle? The Owner May Still Be Liable

Posted on: 18 March 2015

According to the FBI, over 715,000 vehicles were stolen in 2011. Considering a vehicle accident occurs every minute in the United States, there's bound to be some overlap between the two issues. Unfortunately, if you were hit by a stolen vehicle, your options for collecting compensation for damages may be severely limited if the perpetrator didn't have insurance or assets that could be seized. In some cases, though, you may be able to go after the company or individual who owned the car or truck. Here's more information about this issue.

When Vehicle Owners Become Liable

In general, victims of vehicle theft are not responsible for accidents caused by the perpetrators. However, you may be able to hold the vehicle owner liable if the person's negligence contributed to the vehicle's theft. For instance, if a person leaves a running car unattended and it is stolen, that person may be found partially responsible because he or she failed to secure the vehicle to prevent it from being taken without permission.

In this case, you could convince a judge or jury that the result (the stolen car) was a foreseeable outcome to the vehicle owner's actions and the person should, therefore, bear some responsibility for the accident. A real world example of this involves a Tennessee woman and her grandson who were sued by the victims of a car crash caused by a thief who stole her vehicle.

In May 2007, the thief stole the defendant's car and led police on a high-speed chase. During the chase, the thief ran into the plaintiff's vehicle and injured the driver and passengers. The plaintiff sued the defendants, arguing the defendants contributed to the theft because the grandson had left the keys in the car.

Citing the fact that the keys were not left in the vehicle's ignition, the lower court dismissed the claim against the defendants. However, the appeals court overturned that decision, reasoning there was no real difference between leaving the key in the ignition or out in plain view in another part of the vehicle.

Recovering Compensation

Be aware, though, that the amount of compensation you recover from the vehicle owner may be limited by the percentage of liability the court assigns to the person. For instance, if the court only finds the person's actions contributed 20 percent to the accident, then the individual would only be required to pay 20 percent of the damages awarded.

If you were in an accident involving a stolen vehicle, it's best to connect with a personal injury attorney who can help you explore all your options for recovering compensation for your losses.