There are a few questions in life that are more confusing than their answers. The blanket query into whether or not insurance follows the car or the driver in a particular jurisdiction is such a question – one we see regularly. It isn’t a dumb question. It is more like a MENSA brain teaser than a legitimate insurance question, and it is usually the wrong question to ask.
Fresno, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 06/09/2014 -- The answer to whether insurance follows the car or driver depends on many variables, most notably the kind of insurance coverage being referred to. There are coverages that follow the car and coverages that follow the driver. In general, auto insurance follows the car instead of the driver, but the specifics of a claim can differ since insurance laws and coverage vary depending on the policy, coverage and state being dealt with.
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Liability insurance coverage on a personal auto policy follows the driver no matter whose vehicle is being operated, provided it is an eligible vehicle. All states, except for one (New Hampshire), require at least liability coverage. Liability coverage protects the insured (i.e., follows the driver) when the insured operates a vehicle owned by someone else. In such a situation, they will still usually be covered under their own auto insurance policy. However, the best rule of thumb in looking for coverage under a policy is to begin with the exclusions.
While an “insured vehicle” may include a friend’s or neighbor’s vehicle or a rental car, if the vehicle was available for regular use, it might be excluded. A “replacement” vehicle will probably be covered, but in some cases only under circumstances where the insured’s vehicle cannot be operated for some specific reason, such as a repair. Coverage might not follow anyone if the insured is driving a vehicle other than a “private passenger vehicle not owned and listed on the insured’s policy.” There really is no such thing as a standard auto policy anymore and coverage for non-owned autos will be different under some policies and non-existent under others.
Comprehensive and Collision
Comprehensive and collision auto insurance coverage, on the other hand, are tied to the insured vehicle (they follow the car). These coverages pay for damage that befalls the insured vehicle as a result of an accident or vandalism. One could say that if one loans the vehicle, one loan their insurance. With comprehensive insurance which covers almost everything, it is the car rather than the driver that is covered. This, however, requires many stipulations to be put in place, such as who is allowed to drive the car. If someone other than the insured is driving a vehicle covered by comprehensive coverage and is not listed as a covered driver – even if the other person has permission – the other person might not be covered in an accident. Family members (such as children or a spouse) are generally already included in the policy definition of “insured.” However, rarely will insurance cover a driver operating a vehicle without the owner’s permission.
Other Drivers Driving the Insured’s Vehicle
When an insured allows other drivers to drive his vehicle, then, and only then, does the question of whether insurance follows the car or the vehicle become even awkwardly relevant. The right question to be asking is not whether insurance follows the car or the driver, but whether or not other drivers will be covered by the insured’s auto insurance.
Unfortunately, there is no bright line answer to the question, and it depends greatly on the language of the policies involved, the jurisdiction we are concerned with, and the specific facts involved. Permissive use is generally covered under the liability terms of an auto policy. As always, however, there are exceptions.
There are certainly insurance carriers and policies that will not cover any driver not specifically named in the policy. Other relevant facts include where the “other driver” resides and if they are related to the insured. In general, if someone is living in the insured’s household and regularly drives the insured’s vehicle, many insurance carriers expect us to have that person named on the policy. They will need to undergo the same underwriting and qualification process as any other policyholder.
In some cases, if a family member is visiting and has permission from the insured to drive the family vehicle, there will be coverage if there is an accident, but the coverage may be limited. All policies should be reviewed to determine if there are any excluded drivers and any limitations on coverage for anyone driving the car that is not specifically named on the policy.
When the policy of the vehicle owner and the policy of the permissive user have different limits, the matter becomes even more complicated. If the damages caused by the permissive user’s negligence exceed the owner’s liability limits, the policy of the permissive user might be tapped as secondary coverage, but usually only where the permissive user’s liability limits are higher than the owner’s liability limits.
Therefore, a very basic and often incorrect answer to the wrong question is that auto liability coverage generally follows the driver, while auto physical damage coverage generally follows the vehicle. However, more often than not, we will be asking the wrong question. As long as a driver has the vehicle owner’s permission to operate the vehicle, the owner’s policy will provide coverage no matter who the driver is. The vehicle owner’s policy should cover injuries and property damage. However, exceptions do exist. In most cases, therefore, the right question to ask would be “Is there insurance coverage under these specific facts?”
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