Negligent Entrustment Requirements
If negligent entrustment is an issue in your personal injury claim, you will have cause to pursue not only the driver of the vehicle for compensation, but also the owner. If the claim does not settle and you must pursue litigation, both the owner and driver may be named as defendants. Negligent entrustment rules do not make the owner of a vehicle vicariously liable for the negligent acts of the driver of his vehicle; they make him directly liable for his own negligence for allowing an incompetent driver to drive his vehicle.
Requirements for proving negligent entrustment may vary subtly from state to state in the US, but usually these main elements need to be proven: driver incompetence, owner knowledge, entrustment, and proximate cause. We will elaborate below.
The driver of the vehicle was reckless or incompetent. The injured person will need to provide evidence that the vehicle owner allowed an unfit, reckless or incompetent driver operate his vehicle. This would be one who’s driving ability or habits are likely to cause harm to him others. It does not necessarily mean a driver who is unlicensed because that often only indicates inexperience, nor does it necessarily mean a driver who has a prior traffic violation unless that prior history indicates that he is likely to harm others.
The owner of the vehicle knew of that recklessness or incompetence. This is key; the injured person must be able to prove that the vehicle owner was aware of his driver’s incompetence whether it be an obvious disability that his vehicle is not modified for, or if the driver is obviously under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The owner still entrusted his vehicle to that driver in spite of his knowledge of the driver's incompetence. For the vehicle owner to entrust his vehicle to the driver, he must actually have control over its use and then allow the driver to use the vehicle with his consent. Also, the driver must not be a co-owner of the vehicle because then he would not need consent to operate it (such as in the case of a married couple or a parent and child). The injured person must prove owner control and subsequent entrustment.
The driver’s recklessness or incompetence was the proximate cause of the accident. The injured person will need to provide evidence not only that was the vehicle owner aware of the driver’s specific recklessness or incompetence but that it was also the cause of the accident and resulting personal injury.
For example, imagine that John is aware that Jane speeds regularly and has been cited for speeding often, but he allows her to drive his vehicle. If Jane loses control of the vehicle because she is speeding, rolls it and injures a pedestrian, the pedestrian may have a negligent entrustment case against John. However, if Jane was traveling within the speed limit but lost control because she became intoxicated after John handed over his keys, the injured pedestrian might not have such a cause of action against John because John was unaware of the intoxication which was the proximate cause of the accident and personal injury.
In short, a vehicle owner can be found directly liable for negligent entrustment of his vehicle to another. A vehicle owner has an obligation to use reasonable care in his the use and operation of his vehicle; he also has an obligation to use reasonable care when deciding whether or not to give others permission to use his vehicle. Failure to use that reasonable care creates a risk of harm to innocents and may result in his liability.
This article is written for informational purposes and is not intended to take the place of competent local legal counsel.
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