When is owner at fault for letting unsafe driver drive his car?
People usually cannot be found to be responsible when someone else is negligent. But what happens when someone loans his vehicle to another person who he knew — or should have known — was not a safe or qualified driver? A car accident could result due to the negligent entrustment of the vehicle and in some cases, the owner can also be at fault. Giving a dangerous driver access to a potentially deadly 6,000 pound vehicle can be just as deadly as handing a child a loaded gun.
How to prove case for negligent entrustment
The injured person must prove the following:
- The owner entrusted his vehicle to the driver;
- The driver was negligent;
- The owner knew or had reason to know that the driver had no driver’s license, was incompetent, or was known to drive recklessly;
- The driver was negligent when the time the incident occurred; and
- The driver’s negligence caused the incident.
The burden of proof includes the owner’s actual or imputed knowledge of the driver’s incompetence. If he was not aware and should not have known about the driver’s incompetence or reckless driving habits, negligent entrustment will not apply.
However, if the owner knew that the driver had driven recklessly in the past and violated traffic laws, he may be negligent. Tell-tale signs are prior accidents and tickets. The age and experience of the driver can also be indicators.
This problem is related to our last blog about crashes caused by elderly people.
Examples of negligent entrustment
Texas law holds that a driver has a duty not to let an unlicensed driver operate his vehicle. Texas Transportation Code Section 521.456. The Texas Supreme Court has held that “the entrustment of a vehicle to one who has no driver’s license is negligence per se.”
The typical case is when the owner hands the keys or allow someone to get his keys when that person is under the influence. Even if he is sober at the time, he might have a history of driving while intoxicated and be expected to get drunk (or stoned) later. But each case is fact-dependent.
The Texas Supreme Court weighed in on this subject recently. An alcoholic who had a lengthy record of crashes and criminal offenses forged a driver’s license was given a loaner truck by a dealership — even though he was inebriated. He crashed into another truck 18 days later and caused serious injuries to a man — and guess what, he was driving while intoxicated. The trial court granted summary judgment for the dealership which was sued for its role in allowing the drunk to be driving in the first place. The court of appeals reversed that decision. The Supreme Court held in Allways Auto Group, Ltd. v. Walters that the length of time that had intervened precluded the dealership from knowing or foreseeing that the plaintiff would be injured. We’d like to know if the driver ever sobered up after they first loaned him the truck.
Commercial Vehicles and Negligent Entrustment
Many businesses rely on drivers to deliver services and/or products using fleet vehicles. Some one is responsible for hiring the drivers and ensuring they follow the laws of the road. Not only is the person who hires the drivers and hands over the keys liable for their actions, he is also liable for their negligence. Companies that do not take the proper precautions when hiring drivers can also be named as defendants in a lawsuit alleging negligent entrustment of a vehicle.
When a dangerous driver gets behind the wheel, innocent victims can be seriously injured or killed. The person or persons at fault for any vehicle crash will pay for damages to the innocent victim. In a case of negligent entrustment of a vehicle, the liable person might be the owner of the vehicle, the driver, or both.
We can help you
If the owner has committed negligent entrustment, he can be held liable for helping cause the motor vehicle collision. There are many times that an injured person will want to sue the owner, including when his damages are more than the at-fault driver’s available insurance proceeds, the driver does not have liability insurance, or he cannot be located.
If you’ve been hurt in a crash, contact Berenson Injury Law. We have been helping injured victims like you for almost 40 years and explore all possible sources of financial recovery for our clients.