Question: My 1996 Honda was stolen. I only had liability coverage on it. I was wondering, if someone got run over or a car got hit by my stolen car, could I be held liable? Should I keep my policy for a while? Answer: Typically, a car owner is not held responsible for what the driver of a stolen vehicle does. This means if the thief hits and damages other cars or people or is chased by police and crashes, you normally wouldn't have to pay for any of the mess. Also, because you obviously didn't give the thief permission to drive your vehicle, your car insurance company wouldn't usually accept claims for those harmed by your stolen vehicle. However, there are exceptions to this.
When you can be held liable
If you somehow contributed to the car being stolen, then you and your insurance company may be asked to compensate those who were damaged by your stolen car. New York, Tennessee and many other states have laws that say something to the effect that a driver is not permitted to let a vehicle stand unattended without first stopping the engine, locking the ignition and removing the key from the vehicle. If you're caught doing so, you can be cited and fined. (See “ Let the car warm up? Bad idea.”) This lack of judgment could have even harsher consequences. If you left your unlocked, or worse running, with the keys in it unattended in a public area, then you could possibly be found negligent under state laws for conduct falling below the applicable standard of care. That's legalese; in plain language it means you didn't take basic care -- like locking up your car -- to prevent the theft of your car. A judge or jury could determine that a foreseeable outcome to your actions was a person stealing your vehicle and causing damage to others. This may allow you to be found at least partly to blame for ensuing damage done by the thief and held liable for a percentage of the damages.