Negligent Entrustment of a Motor Vehicle

When a person is injured because of another person’s negligence, he or she may look to each individual who bore some responsibility for the accident. Negligent entrustment provides for the recovery of damages when a person puts a dangerous device in the hands of a person who is not equipped to handle it properly. Through this tort claim, a person may be able to recover damages from the owner of the device.

Overview of Negligent Entrustment

Negligent entrustment is considered a tort in some jurisdictions which provides for the recovery of damages through a civil lawsuit. It arises when one individual is held liable due to the negligence of another after providing the second party with a dangerous device or instrumentality with which the second party causes injury to a third party.

Types of Negligent Entrustment Claims

Negligent entrustment claims arise primarily in two fact scenarios: entrusting someone with a firearm or a vehicle. The legal premise behind this claim is that the person who has provided the device knew or should have known that the device could be used to harm others due to the borrower’s
age or inexperience.

Motor Vehicle Negligent Entrustment Claims

To recover for the negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle, the plaintiff must generally prove the following elements. First, the owner of the vehicle entrusted the vehicle to the driver. Second, the driver was incompetent, reckless or unlicensed. Third, the owner knew or should have known that the driver met the factors under element two. Fourth, the driver was negligent in his or her operation of the vehicle. Last, the driver’s negligence caused damages.

Knowledge Element

Negligent entrustment cases often rest on the knowledge that the entrustor had at the time of providing the dangerous instrumentality. This may be phrased as actual knowledge, based on previous experience or knowledge of the entrustee’s inexperience or reckless behaviors. For example, the owner may have been in a vehicle with the driver on another occasion and had the opportunity to determine that the driver was incompetent or otherwise unable to properly operate the vehicle like a normal driver would have been able. This may include providing a vehicle to a driver who is known to be a danger due to the driver’s youth, lack of experience, poor driving record or mental capacity. The element of knowledge may also be phrased as “reasonable cause to know,” such as would exist if the entrustee had a record or reputation of engaging in dangerous activity that could have been reasonably foreseeable. This type of standard usually allows for a showing of constructive knowledge. This means that the driver’s incompetence may not be immediately apparent to the owner, but the owner possessed some facts or circumstances related to the borrower’s circumstances or facts related to his or her inability to properly operate the device that he or she is borrowing. For example, if the owner of the vehicle knew of specific instances of a driver’s recklessness or his or her incompetence, he or she may be liable for negligent entrustment. In the most basic sense, the test is often whether the owner knew or should have known that the entrustee was reckless or incompetent.

Negligence Foundation

This tort is under the negligence umbrella of tort law. As such, the standard is whether the owner of the dangerous device or instrumentality exercised the same degree of care that an ordinarily prudent individual would exercise under similar circumstances in entrusting the device or instrumentality.

Negligent Entrustment in the Employment Context

Plaintiffs may utilize this tort theory against an employer in order to recover damages that an employee caused. In the employment context, an employer may be found liable if the employee’s record of reckless or dangerous conduct was known to the employer or if the employer would have easily discovered this record if it would have conducted a diligent search. For example, a plaintiff may pursue a negligent entrustment case against a bus company if the company hired a driver with a history of reckless driving. In this scenario, the company could have learned of such a record if it searched publicly available records.

In Evidence

The Federal Rules of Evidence generally preclude the submission of evidence of an individual’s character to show that the individual acted in conformity with his or her character on a specific occasion. However, these rules specific except introducing such evidence in a negligent entrustment case since this is an essential element of the tort.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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