Often times I get questions asked online that should be added as blog posts. This is one of them.

Question:

Our son is a full-time college student in
Washington, and he is about to purchase car insurance. He is still a resident of Iowa, where my wife and I live. Would it be wise for our son and me to buy the car together and tag and title it in Iowa so we can put him on our umbrella policy? Or should he just get his own and stay off his parents' policy? The question is this: we claim him as a dependent on our income tax returns and are co-signers on his student loans, so would we be liable in the event of a car accident? If so, would we be ahead to put him on our policy where we have a $1.4 million umbrella rather than have our son take out a minimum liability policy of his own in Washington?

Answer:

I think this is one of the wisest questions a parent can ask. I too asked it when my children were just learning to drive. Here is what I did. I purchased a car for them with the understanding they had to pay me back and to insure and maintain it. Rather than put my name on the title, because I didn’t want the liability exposure, I titled the car in their name and placed a lien on the title in my name. They signed a loan repayment agreement that included language giving me the right to repossess without notice if they failed to maintain insurance or place the collateral at risk. Placing the collateral at risk could include driving while under the influence of alcohol. I kept the extra set of keys.

Your situation may be a little different than mine. I own sizeable assets and didn’t want to place them at risk. You may not have that challenge and simply want to have a large insurance policy in place to protect the child. Remember placing a car in your name, makes you the owner and under Iowa law the owner is legally responsible for the permissive driver’s negligence, which may include drivers your son gives permission to operate the car or truck. I didn’t want that kind of exposure or hassle with trying to control who drives the car. With their being at school and away from home it’s tough for us to really know what is going on.

The umbrella insurance policy you have at $1.4 million may or may not be enough coverage. Here is what I mean by that. The umbrella policy may or may not include a provision to extend the underlying car insurance coverage for underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage. Read the policy and see if it does. I also write blogs on the Des Moines market for Injuryboard.com and on the Lombardi Law Firm website blog, The Verdict, and have covered this subject just recently on WJRN Talk Radio, Racine, Wisconsin. If you write to me I can provide the links. See if this works for you to listen.

File name: 02~25~08nmlomb.mp3:
Download link: http://www.mediafire.com/file/dytnxgt3gi9

And here is the InjuryBoard link:

Driver Safety: Starts before you turn the ignition key

Posted by Steve Lombardi | February 11, 2009 10:25 AM

The biggest road hazard you may face this and next year are uninsured motorists. If you didn’t have enough to worry about with double bottomed semi-truck trailers, pieces of retread tires and...

And the link to The Verdict article with the same title.

I hope this answers your questions, if not write to me again. Here is Iowa Code section 321.493 where I’ve underlined the important language.

321.493  Liability for damages.

1. a.  Subject to paragraph "b", in all cases where damage is done by any motor vehicle by reason of negligence of the driver, and driven with the consent of the owner, the owner of the motor vehicle shall be liable for such damage. For purposes of this subsection, "owner" means the person to whom the certificate of title for the vehicle has been issued or assigned or to whom a manufacturer's or importer's certificate of origin for the vehicle has been delivered or assigned. However, if the vehicle is leased, "owner" means the person to whom the vehicle is leased, not the person to whom the certificate of title for the vehicle has been issued or assigned or to whom the manufacturer's or importer's certificate of origin for the vehicle has been delivered or assigned. For purposes of this subsection, "leased" means the transfer of the possession or right to possession of a vehicle to a lessee for a valuable consideration for a continuous period of twelve months or more, pursuant to a written agreement.

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