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Can they take away my house? Car accident lawsuit.

San Leandro, CA |

My son was involved in a car accident about 10 months ago, and now the other party hired an attorney and contacted my insurance carrier for the damages. No lawsuit has been filed yet at this point, but the car is under my name, so I am responsible for the damages. My wife and I have a house (only one), and I just currently removed my name from the house and now it is solely under my wife's name. If I am being sued for the damages because of my son's car accidents, can they put a lien against our house (actually it's my wife's house, now) if they file a lawsuit later on? We live in California, thank you.

My son is covered by the insurance policy and they covered $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident for him. I am just afraid that if the injuried party attempted to claim beyond our policy limit, we may be in trouble. I know CA is a community property state, so I am afraid that even the house is under my wife's name only now, they still can touch it, can't they??? Besides that, we have no other assets and my son and I have been unemployed for a long time, the house is our only asset.

Attorney Answers 4


  1. Best answer

    Assuming your son is an adult and also assuming that there was no reason to refuse him permission to drive the car registered in your name (addictions, epilepsy or other diseases, suspension of license due to a pile of past accidents, etc.) everything said by both counsel is correct. Your(and your wife's) liability as the registered owners is limited in California to 15/30/5 thousands. See Vehicle Code Section 17151. Your policy exceeds this limit.
    While you are not in a position to judge the nature and extent of injuries sustained by other vehicle occupants, they may be less and more that your policy limit. If after litigation the court determines that your son caused damage beyond the policy limit and enters judgment against him to that effect, he will be a judgment debtor and generally such a debt can be discharged in bancrupcy.
    When my clients are aware that the injury is serious and they have assets (your son does not) I recommend that they write to the liability insurance company and ask them to offer the policy limit(s) to the other party. This has to be in writing and I always tell them to send it certified and to keep a copy in their file. This way if the verdict or judgement is in excess of the policy they have some protection against the insurance company due to its failure to tender the policy limit if the other party asked for it.

    When

    By answering your question we did not establish an attorney-client relationship. I have not examined all the facts or documents. I have not given you a legal advice nor intended to give you one on which you may rekly. A legal advice on which you can rely can only be given when all the facts are known and documents reviewed. My respoonse to your question was of a general educational nature. In order to obtain sopund legal advice you need tyo see an attorney who specializes or focuses in the area you are interested in.


  2. As the owner of the car your liability for injuries is capped at $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident by California law, provided that you did not negligently entrust the car to your son. Your son could be held liable for the full amount of the damages he caused. Your insurance company will defend you and will attempt to settle the claims against you up to the liability limit of your policy. If your son is covered by the insurance policy, he will be protected up to the liability policy limits. It is not a good idea to change the ownership of your house or other assets after an incident for which you may be liable. But in this case, it is doubtful that you would have any liability beyond your insurance coverage and your house should be safe.

    This response applies only to California law, is not intended to be legal advice to any individual and does not create an attorney-client relationship.


  3. If a lawsuit is brought against you due to the accident then ideally you want your insurance company to settle the case within your policy limits so that any judgment obtained against you is not in excess of your available insurance. Your insurance company will have to provide legal counsel to defend you, however you do not have to use their assigned attorney and can opt to hire your own personal lawyer to attempt to settle the case within your policy limit. If your insurance company has the chance to settle within the policy limit but refuses to then you should speak to an outside attorney to see whether you may have a claim against your insurance company. Otherwise, if the case settles in excess of your available insurance, the judgment creditor will have the right to attempt to seize possible bank balances and/or personal assets. If a lawsuit is brought against you, contact your insurance company right away to insist they settle within your policy limit.

    Please indicate below if you found this information to be helpful. Evan Koch is licensed to practice law in California. The response herein is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship. The response is in the form of legal education and is intended to provide general information about the matter within the question. Oftentimes the question does not include significant and important facts and timelines that, if known, could significantly change the reply and make it unsuitable. Mr. Koch strongly advises the questioner to confer with an attorney in your state in order to ensure proper advice is received.


  4. Two excellent answers, in my opinion. Only thing I can think to add would be to contact personal counsel for a consultation.

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