Many people have let a friend, family member, or even a business associate drive their car. It could have just been for a quick trip to a 7-11 or the dry cleaners. However, if a car crash occurs and someone suffers a serious injury, there’s a chance your insurance company may try to avoid paying potential claims through contesting the “permissive use” clause in a policy.

Permissive use is a legal term used to describe a situation where a car owner gives permission to someone not directly listed on the owner’s insurance policy to drive the vehicle. If it can be determined that the individual who drove your car and got into the wreck did not have permission to operate the vehicle, then your insurance company may not be required to cover expenses associated with the accident.

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An example of an insurance trying to avoid paying a claim involved an employer letting an employee drive their pickup truck during Labor Day Weekend in Richmond, Virginia (VA). The employee recklessly got behind the wheel of the truck after drinking so much alcohol that their blood alcohol level was 0.18 (the legal limit is 0.08). Result – the employee hit a parked car which was propelled into the yard of where a party was held killing two people.

The employee was charged with voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The families of the two decedents filed a wrongful death claim but the insurance company defense attorneys tried to argue that the employee did not have permission to use the pickup truck and, therefore, the employer’s insurance policy cannot be pursued by the plaintiff’s attorneys and should try to pursue damages from the at-fault driver (i.e. the drunk employee). However, the available evidence pointed to the employer providing permissive use of the pickup truck and two $1,000,000 settlements were reached for the estate of each decedent.  

Insurance companies don’t always try to get out of the permissive use clause. It usually depends on the circumstances of the case and the size of the claim, but don’t be surprised if this tactic is used in court if you file a serious injury or wrongful death claim stemming from a car crash.