Q: My husband and I co-signed for a car loan, but I am the only person listed on the registration as an owner. We separated a few months ago. Last week he took my car without asking and was responsible for causing an accident in which someone was injured. Am I going to be held personally responsible as the owner of the vehicle?
A: As your husband is not registered as an owner of the vehicle with the state registry or listed on the title to the car, he is not technically an owner of the vehicle even though he has financial responsibility for payments on the car if you default on the loan. Your personal liability (or liability for a surcharge on your insurance premium) may be avoided in some cases where a driver of a car did not have permission to take the vehicle from the owner. In general, as a legal concept “permissive use” is assumed when someone operates a vehicle not owned by them, but it is a rebuttable presumption by the owner of the vehicle. This is fact specific. Some relevant questions you may be asked to answer include: Does he still have his own set of keys to the vehicle? If not, how did he gain access to the keys? When was the last time before the accident that he drove the vehicle? You should also consider possible verified pieces of evidence documenting that he does not have permission to use your vehicle such as separation agreements. These are all questions I would consider before advising you of your potential liability in this matter.