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Who's Liable If a Joyride Ends in a Crash?

By Betty Wang, JD on August 30, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Who's liable for a joyride -- especially one that ends in a crash, causing injury and damage?

It's a question that parents hope they never have to ask, but unfortunate situations do happen. In Phoenix, for example, a 6-year-old girl was killed when her 8-year-old brother took their parents' car for a joyride and crashed less than a block from their home, Reuters reports.

So what happens if your car is taken for a joyride without your consent? Are you still liable for what happens to it? Here are some factors to consider:

Check Your Insurance Policy

To determine liability for a joyride, take a look at your car insurance policy first. You should check to see if your child or whoever took your car is covered under your plan.

Some car insurance policies cover every household member, while others may only cover licensed members. If your child is not covered, chances are that you'll have to pay out of pocket.

Usually, when you are applying for coverage, your plan will request that you list all household members and their ages, regardless of whether or not they are licensed to drive. Remember, failing to list everyone requested (especially if someone takes your car on a joyride later) can potentially be considered insurance fraud and can lead to dire consequences.

Many Possible Outcomes

Even if your teen or the driver is covered by your car insurance policy, it's unlikely that your plan will actually cover the joyriding incident.

Instead, here are the more likely scenarios that you'll probably end up facing:

  • "Unauthorized use." Your insurer will likely tell you that because the joyride falls under the category of an "unauthorized use" of your car, you won't be covered. Because the car was taken without your approval or knowledge, you may not be able to open up a claim for it.
  • Theft. If your car insurance policy has comprehensive coverage, you may be able to file a claim for the taking, or theft, of your car. However, keep in mind that many insurers don't consider a child taking a parent's car to be "theft."
  • Out-of-pocket fees. Because of the reasons listed above, you most likely will have to pay for the damage out of your own pocket. Unless you can work something out with the joyrider (if he wasn't your own child), you may have to assume all the responsibility.

Remember that all car insurance policies are different and will vary depending on which one you opted for. If your car is taken for a joyride, consider calling an experienced car accident lawyer near you to figure out who's legally responsible.

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