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Who Pays for Damage Caused by a Stolen Car?

November 9, 2023

While car theft is stressful enough, the nightmare often doesn't end when your car is simply stolen; in some cases, it's just the beginning, especially if your stolen vehicle has caused damage to other property or vehicles.

One of the most significant concerns that arises from such an incident is determining who will cover the costs associated with the damages. So, in the UK, who's on the hook when a stolen car wreaks havoc?

The answer is simple - if the suspect is caught, the car thief will usually be obliged to cover the damages. However, like with any crime, situations like these can get complicated, especially if the culprit is never found, or doesn’t have the assets or means to pay. Let’s take a closer look at some possible outcomes, and what you can do if you ever find yourself in this unfortunate, stressful situation.

Insurance Coverage for Stolen Car Damage

In the UK, when a vehicle is stolen and subsequently involved in an accident or causes damage in some way or form, the initial source of compensation is usually the insurance policy of the stolen vehicle's owner. If you have a comprehensive insurance policy, it should cover the damages to your car.

However, when it comes to third-party damages or injuries caused by your stolen vehicle, the situation can become more complicated. If the thief is caught and can be identified, any third-party claims would typically be directed against the thief, as we explained briefly in the intro. Still, it's relatively rare for a thief to have the assets or insurance to cover these claims.

Depending on your insurance, you may also have the right to a non fault accident courtesy car - but this will depend on your chosen policy and provider.

Assessing the Damage

In the unfortunate event that your stolen vehicle does end up causing damage, it's essential first to ascertain the extent of the damage. This assessment should include:

  • Damage to your vehicle: If your car is recovered but damaged, get a comprehensive assessment from a reputable garage or mechanic. This will form the basis of your claim to your insurance company.
  • Damage to third-party property: Document any damages caused to other vehicles, infrastructure, or private property. Taking photographs and collating any available CCTV footage can be invaluable.
  • Personal Injuries: If your stolen vehicle caused injury to others, ensure you have detailed records. While you’re not at fault, this information is vital for insurance claims and potential legal proceedings.
A policeman attaching handcuffs to a suspect

Coordinating with the Police

Always report a stolen vehicle to your local police station as soon as possible - they will provide a crime reference number, which is going to be essential for any future insurance claims. If your stolen car caused damage or injury, note the following:

  • Keep Open Communication: Regularly liaise with the investigating officers. They might recover your vehicle or apprehend the culprits, providing essential evidence for insurance and legal claims.
  • Provide all Relevant Details: Any information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, can be crucial in tracing the thief and your vehicle. If you have a tracking device installed, provide the police with the necessary details.
  • Obtain the Official Police Report: Once the investigation is complete or reaches a certain stage, request a copy of the police report. This document will be instrumental when dealing with your insurance company or if you need to take legal action.

When to Pursue Legal Action

In situations where the thief is apprehended, you may have the option to pursue legal action against them. While the justice system will deal with their criminal activities, a civil lawsuit can be launched to reclaim damages not covered by your insurance. However, there are several factors to consider:

  • Financial Viability: Pursuing legal action can be expensive. It's essential to weigh the potential recovery against the costs of taking legal action. Even if you win the case, the thief may not have the means to pay, leaving you out of pocket.
  • Emotional Costs: Legal proceedings can be lengthy and emotionally draining; consider the emotional toll and the potential stress of court appearances and legal battles before deciding.
  • Legal Advice: Always seek advice from a solicitor or legal expert. They can provide a clear picture of your chances of success, potential pitfalls, and the expected costs involved.

Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB)

In the UK, the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB) acts as a safety net for those affected by uninsured or untraced drivers, which includes thieves driving stolen vehicles. If the thief cannot be identified or doesn't have the insurance to cover the damages they've caused, the MIB can step in, investigate the claim, and potentially provide compensation to victims.

To make a claim with the MIB:

  • Report the incident to the police: The MIB requires an official police report as part of the claims process.
  • Gather evidence: Just as you would with an insurance claim, gather all relevant details, photographs, and witness information.
  • File within the set time frame: There are time limits for making a claim with the MIB, so it's essential to act promptly.

The Bottom Line

Being the victim of a car theft is distressing, and the situation becomes unquestionably even more challenging if your stolen vehicle causes damage or injury to others. Should such an incident occur, it’s essential to know your rights, as well as the mechanisms in place to protect you financially.

While your insurance policy and the MIB are vital safety nets, always take proactive steps, such as reporting to the police promptly and gathering as much evidence as possible.