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What is “Negligent Entrustment”?

WHAT IS NEGLIGENT ENTRUSTMENT?

“Negligent Entrustment” generally occurs when the owner of a motor vehicle negligently allows an unlicensed or incompetent person to operate the vehicle.

Owners of motor vehicles have a duty to operate the vehicle, and to ensure the vehicle is operated, in compliance with applicable laws. This duty is breached when the owner fails to exercise ordinary care in compliance with law, and when the owner breaches a statutory duty relating to operation and use of the automobile.

Note that negligent entrustment is an action which can be brought against owners of motor vehicles and those with the capacity to control use of vehicles, but not against people who cannot control who uses the vehicle.

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ELEMENTS OF NEGLIGENT ENTRUSTMENT 

Negligent entrustment occurs when:

— The owner of a motor vehicle (or a person able to control use of the vehicle);

— Permits a third party (someone other than the owner himself or herself) to operate the vehicle;

— In circumstances where entrusting the vehicle to the third-party driver was a negligent decision; and

— Damage and/or injuries result from the negligent entrustment.

Like all negligence claims, the negligent act must be the legal cause of actual injury or damage. Also, negligent entrustment is a separate act of negligence from any action(s) taken by the vehicle’s driver. Negligent entrustment liability springs not from the driver’s actions (even if negligent), but from the negligence involved in the vehicle owner’s decision to lend or permit third-party operation of the vehicle in the first place.

WHEN IS IT A NEGLIGENT DECISION TO LET SOMEONE ELSE OPERATE YOUR MOTOR VEHICLE?

Negligent entrustment is a “facts and circumstances”-based cause of action, which means that although there are some “bright line” rules (for example, permitting a non-licensed driver to operate the vehicle) and statues creating liability, negligent entrustment is generally determined after reviewing the facts and circumstances of the case at issue.

However, some guidelines do exist. Owners of motor vehicles should not permit third parties to operate the vehicle if the owner has actual or constructive knowledge that:

— The third-party driver is not competent to operate a motor vehicle. People may be, or become, incompetent to operate a vehicle for many reasons, for example, as a result of intoxication, drug use, or a physical or mental impairment.

— The third-party driver is not competent (or experienced enough) to operate the vehicle in question. All vehicles are not created equal. A driver who has previously operated only small sedans may not be competent to operate a bus or a truck with a trailer.

–The third-party driver is likely, through operation of the vehicle, to create a risk of harm to others. This situation can occur even when the driver is licensed and capable of physically operating the vehicle. For example: a teenager known for engaging in risky and unreliable driving may create an unreasonable risk behind the wheel, even if he or she has not had accidents and possesses a driver’s license.

–The third-party driver does not have a driver’s license.

Although the vehicle owner is not always required to perform a thorough investigation of the prospective driver’s habits and safety record before permitting a third party to operate his or her vehicle (except where the law, applicable regulations, and/or common sense reasonably requires it), if failure to perform an adequate investigation constitutes negligence, the owner may be held liable for failure to investigate. At a minimum, vehicle owners should take steps to know who is driving their vehicles, and error the side of caution when deciding who should be able to borrow a vehicle. Consult an attorney before lending a vehicle if you have any doubts, or want to know how the law applies to your situation (and what, if any, obligations you may have to investigate).

Do not rely on this blog post, or any online article, when determining whether or not to lend your vehicle to any person. You must obtain an individual evaluation of your legal rights and liabilities. 

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DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for informational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice to any person or entity, and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any person or entity. Negligence law and defenses are a complex legal topic, particularly in the area of liability for motor vehicle accidents, and no single article can provide complete or comprehensive coverage or information about this or any other legal topic or issue. Your personal liability may differ, based on your individual facts and circumstances. If you believe you have a legal claim or issue, or wish to know more about your individual rights, consult an experienced attorney without delay.

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