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Can we sue an automobile owner's insurance for medical damages if the "stolen" vehicle was not reported?

San Jose, CA |

In an auto accident, my fiancee and I were stopped in a turn lane when a driver careened through an intersection and hit us. Both vehicles deployed airbags and were total loss situations. The other vehicle (100% at fault) attempted to flee but the vehicle broke down about a block away when he tried to flee on foot but was caught still with drugs and intoxicated. The police went to the owner's home and he said the vehicle was stolen, but the "thief" had the keys. We were both hurt (ambulence/scheduled surgery for me) but my fiancee doesn't have health insurance like I do. I feel bad if the guy truly had his car stolen, but if he didn't, then his insurance should pay for this. Even if he reported it, the police could have caught the guy. He didn't report it though. Is he liable?

Attorney Answers 10


  1. There are a few things that a lawyer could investigate on your behalf. I'd question his story that the car was stolen, as you suggest. Even if the car was stolen, the owner may be liable for negligently leaving the keys in the car, if that is what happened. I am not sure the owner's failure to report the theft is a causal factor in the accident, but it bears looking into. I would suggest you and your fiance retain counsel; the case is complex and the damages make it worthwhile.


  2. Report the claim to your insurance and consult with a personal injury attorney who will investigate the owner and the driver of the car, and the owner’s claim that the vehicle was stolen. Good luck.

    This information is not intended as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship between you and any attorney. Such information is intended for general informational purposes only.


  3. The owner and his insurance company may be liable even if the car was stolen. It all depends on the facts surrounding the "theft"

    This is general advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.


  4. He should still be liable if he let the driver have access to the keys. He seems to know more than he is letting on.


  5. I am sorry to hear of your accident and that you and your fiancée were both injured. It sounds like you need to contact a personal injury attorney here in California to help you through the insurance process and to perform an investigation as to the facts of the accident, including the claim that the vehicle was stolen. Hopefully, you had uninsured motorist auto insurance as the other party may not have auto insurance. There are a lot of things for a personal injury attorney to look at and to help you with. Most personal injury attorneys provide a free initial consultation. You should consider taking advantage of that to find an experienced attorney you feel comfortable with. Best of luck.

    Mr. Crosner is licensed to practice law in California and has been practicing law in California since 1978. The response herein is general legal and business analysis.. It is not intended nor construed to be "legal advice" but rather it is analysis, and different lawyers may analyze this matter differently, especially if there are additional facts not reflected in 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. I am not your attorney until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both of us. See also avvo.com terms and conditions item 9, incorporated as if it was reprinted here.


  6. Yes. You should immediately retain an experienced personal injury attorney to investigate the claim and advise you as the possibility of recovery. These claims are usually handled on a contingency basis, and you pay nothing up front. That is how we do it, and that is how 98% of all good personal injury lawyers handle these cases.

    Brad C. Brereton
    (831)429-6391

    In all cases it is advisable to consult an experienced attorney. Nothing stated herein is intended as legal advice for your specific situation, and you should use the information provided solely for the purpose of choosing an experienced attorney for the problems presented.


  7. Often these belated stolen car claims are really attempts to avoid liability. Sometimes they have to be litigated. Get the police report once it is ready. Before you talk to your ins co, best to give me a call. It is possible you could end up adversarial to your own company. Dont make mistakes in the case early on that could affect the case later.

    Im in downtown San Jose, and there is no charge to talk to me. I only handle injury cases.

    Robert Kopelson 408-293-4000


  8. If the keys were stolen to steal the car, then there should be no suspicion associated. If the car owner was unaware of the theft, (s)he would have had no reason to report it. It's your burden to substantiate a duty of care of the car owner towards you and show that the duty was breached. Does either you or your fiancee have an automobile insurance policy providing medical payments as a benefit?


  9. Yes, retain one of the above lawyers in your state to resolve

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