With nearly 300 million vehicles operating on U.S. roads, it’s no surprise that our country leads the world in annual car crashes. In addition, a vehicle is reported stolen every 32 seconds in the U.S., increasing the risk that you may be involved in a stolen vehicle accident. What happens if the driver of a stolen vehicle hits another car and causes injuries to the driver and passengers? If the stolen vehicle is insured, can you file a claim with that insurance company and receive compensation for your injuries and property damage?
What is the Legal Definition of a Stolen Vehicle? Is Auto Theft a Felony?
Anyone driving a vehicle without the consent of the vehicle’s owner could be charged with auto theft. Most car thieves are opportunistic, taking advantage of situations that make it easy to steal a vehicle. For example, if a criminal notices a car running outside a convenience store, they will likely check to see if the keys have been left in the ignition. Car thieves can break into automobiles and “hot wire” the vehicle by stripping the ignition, starter, and battery wire. The engine starts without a key when the thief touches the stripped starter wire to the battery wire.
Although auto theft penalties vary among states, grand theft auto (vehicles worth more than $1000) is a felony in all 50 states. A judge’s disposition of an auto theft case may hinge on whether the thief used a gun to steal a car (carjacking) or if the criminal committed auto theft with blatant disregard for the safety of others. First-time car thieves may be sentenced to up to five years in prison. Repeat offenders and carjackers can get a 10 to 20-year prison sentence, depending on the criminal’s recidivism.
How Do Auto Insurance Companies Handle Claims Involving a Stolen Vehicle Accident?
Auto theft victims may file a claim with their insurance company to receive compensation for the loss of their vehicle. However, the ability to be compensated for auto theft depends on the policy’s coverage limitations. Uninsured motorist coverage is a type of auto insurance that protects policyholders when the at-fault driver has no insurance or insufficient insurance to cover the damages. This coverage is designed to help pay for bills related to injuries, medical expenses, and property damage caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver.
If your car is stolen and involved in an accident, you legally bear no responsibility for the damages caused to another person’s vehicle or for injuries sustained. The person driving your stolen car is financially responsible for the accident. On the other hand, if somebody steals your car when you left it unlocked and idling, your insurance company may not compensate you for the loss of your vehicle. In this case, there is some liability on your part due to your negligence.
Owners of stolen cars who wish to seek compensation from their insurance company will need to obtain detailed information from law enforcement. Providing an auto insurance company with police reports and other evidence that proves your car was stolen is critical to getting compensated for property loss or damage if your car is eventually returned.
How Can You Claim Compensation for Injuries Sustained in a Stolen Vehicle Accident?
If you or someone you know has been involved in a stolen vehicle accident, and suffered injury, they may be able to receive compensation by filing a personal injury lawsuit. Consulting with a personal injury attorney to determine if you have a viable case is the first step to take toward getting the potential compensation you deserve.