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What liability does the titled owner of a car still have when the car is used in a hit and run?

Saint Petersburg, FL |

We were the victim of a it and run and it turns out the car was stolen and the insurance on the car is not valid. Can the titled owner still be held liable personally for my out of pocket such as deductible and rental car?

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Attorney answers 4

Best Answer

To slightly rephrase Mr. Woodring's answer, the owner of a motor vehcle is generally not responsible for the criminal acts of a person who has no permission to use the vehicle. Thus he is not responsible for the damages caused by a hit and run caused by a car thief while he would be responsible for hit and run damages caused by a member of his family. However, if the owner was negligent in allowing the car to be stolen, like he left the keys in the car or he left the vehicle with the engine running, then he would be liable because his negligence facilitated the theft -- sort of tacitly giving the theif permission to drive the car.

But, from what I am gathering from your question, the hit and run caused only property damage and you are seeking the deductible for repairing your car and your auto rental. Well, what does your insurance carrier say? They spent more than you on repairing your car. They employ lawyers to collect what they spend in paying claims. If they are not interested in collecting their thousands in repairs because they don't think they can, then you might take your lead from them in collecting your hundreds in out-of-pockets. If they do file suit, make sure they sue for your damages as well in the same lawsuit.

Of course, you mention that the car owner did not have insurance. That means your insurance company would have to sue the auto owner as well as the thief personally. Would they be able to collect a judgment? Or would they be wasting their time?

The foregoing is offered for informational purposes only and is not legal advice.

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This answer should not be considered specific legal advice, nor does it establish an attorney client relationship. Generally, if the owner can prove the car was actually stolen, did he report it stolen? and it was not stolen because, for example, keys were left in it, he would not have liability under the dangerous instrumentalities doctrine, and so would not be liable to you. Some owners however attempt to use the stolen argument as a defense when it is not true.


Assuming that the vehicle was in fact stolen, then the rightful owner would probably not have any legal liability for your collision, although there are some exceptions to this rule. However, if you have insurance coverage on your own vehicle you may be able to seek reimbursement for some of your out of pocket expenses. Additionally, you may be able to contact the State Attorney who is prosecuting the person who stole the vehicle and ask them to get you victim's compensation. Regardless, as this is not meant to be legal advice, you should consult with an attorney to discuss your rights.


I'd like to hear more specifics about your damages and the circumstances of the "theft' of the car before I can give you a definitive answer. There had better be a police report documenting the "theft" and the driver had better not be a wayward relative.....the previous responses are correct that if negligent in allowing the vehicle to be taken( ie. keys in an unlocked car ) the owner could still be held liable...I'd also like to confirm the insurance me at my office in downtown St Pete to set an appointment. 727-822-3700

Robert Heyman, Esq

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