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Car Accident Liability for Registered Owner

Los Angeles, CA |

I am separated from my wife and the vehicle she was driving was registered to my name. I asked her to register it in her name but she did not. She was recently involved in a car accident and she gave the people involved all of my information for recovering any damages. The other parties insurance company just sent me a letter for damages. What is my recourse since shouldn't they first seek to recover from the driver first before they seek recovery from me. I understand that I can be held liable for up to $5,000 in property damages since I was the registered owner, but shouldn't they seek recovery first from the driver before me?

Attorney Answers 3


  1. Your recourse is depends on what damages you suffer from the accident. I did not see anyting about damage to the vehicle your ex-wife was driving with your permission.

    Practically speaking, I would forward the letter you received from the other party's insurance company to your insurance company immediately.

    Both you and your ex-wiefe are jointly liabile for the harm caused to the other party. Your ex-wife's liability is primary and your's is secondary subject to the permissive use limits under the California Vehicle Code.

    There is one wrinkle in your situation that may change everything and that is your statement that your ex-wife was supposed to put the vehicle in her name. You will continue to be the owner until you comply with the Vehicle Code requirements to transfer the vehicle from your name to her's. As the owner, that may subject you to permissive use liability a the registered owner.

    If you are a potential client, the information you disclose to us by email will be kept in strict confidence and will be protected to the full extent of the law. Please be advised, however, that the Law Offices of Frank M. Nunes, Inc. and its lawyers do not represent you until you have signed a retainer agreement with the firm. Until that time, you are responsible for any statutes of limitations or other deadlines for your case or potential case.


  2. Generally, under California Insurance Code Section 11580.9(d) the vehicle owner's policy responds first (thus the importance of getting the registration changed). My colleague is correct: report the accident to your insurer immediately. Your insurer should then coordinate the allcoation of payment to the injured parties with the insurers for the other party and the driver of your car.

    This response is general legal and business analysis and not legal advice; thus, other attorneys may analyze this issue differently, particularly if there are undisclosed facts. I am licensed to practice in CA, but I am not your attorney and this response does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. Please review Item 9 of avvo.com’s terms and conditions, which is incorporated by reference as it if was reprinted here in full.


  3. As long as you have minimum limits insurance (or more) on that vehicle there is no problem at all. The insurance (whether in your name or your wife's) will pay at least the California minimum ($5000.00 for property damage). Once they do that, your liability as registered owner is extinguished, and anything over that amount (if uninsured) is the responsibility of the driver. Good Luck