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Homeless person’s cart hit my car – who pays?

Question: A homeless person’s cart hit my car.  Can I go after the store that has its name on the cart to pay for my damages?

Answer: Sorry, but no.  The store whose name is on the cart is in no way liable for the actions of someone who illegally absconded with its property.  

I’d compare this situation to a person stealing your car and then you being held liable for the damages the thief caused to other people’s property with your car.  Would you want that?

Normally, car owners can't be held responsible for the actions of a thief.  And their car insurance usually won't pay for damage others sustained due to a person’s vehicle being stolen.  This is because the driver -- the criminal who stole the car -- didn’t have permission to use the insured vehicle.

The same holds true in your situation where a homeless person took a store's shopping cart off its premises without permission.  Neither the store nor its insurance company will pay for damages the thief, the homeless person, caused to your car with the cart.

But let’s change the circumstances: Say the cart was still in the parking lot of the store that owned it when your car was hit by it.  Even if a patron of the store was using the cart and accidentally hit and dented your vehicle, the store usually wouldn't be held liable.  The store wasn’t negligent, the person using the cart was, and he or she would be the one held responsible.

So, in your situation the store can’t be held liable for the damage your car sustained, but the homeless person could be.  However, if the person is  carrying his or her possessions in a stolen cart, then realistically you’re not going to be able to collect for cost of repair for the damage to your vehicle – even if you found a way to sue the person. 

Instead, if you have collision coverage on your vehicle, you can make a claim for the damage the cart caused your vehicle --if the cost of repair is more than your deductible amount.  Remember, your collision coverage benefits only kick in after your deductible is exceeded. 

And if the cost of repair is just a bit more than your deductible, I’d recommend you still pay out of pocket for the repairs to your car and save your collision coverage for major damages.  This is because even though you weren’t at-fault for this incident, collision claims may cause your future car insurance rates to rise.  (See "Save money by paying for the small stuff")

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