Yes it is true – owners of a vehicle can be liable for allowing another person to operate their vehicle. In such cases, liability can be imposed under the doctrine of negligent entrustment. A lawsuit for negligent entrustment arises when the owner of a motor vehicle entrusts it to someone the owner knows to be incapable of using the vehicle properly and a third party is injured.
Some examples of negligent entrustment include:
- Lending a vehicle to minor children who just obtained their license but do not have experience in rush hour traffic or expressway driving;
- Lending a vehicle to potential drivers who are visibly intoxicated or drugged; or
- Lending a car to a friend for racing or other reckless purposes.
Pennsylvania has adopted the following common law definition of “negligent entrustment”:
“It is negligence to permit a third person to use a thing or to engage in an activity which is under the control of the actor, if the actor knows or should know that such person intends or is likely to use the thing or to conduct himself in the activity in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others.”
It is notable to mention that negligent entrustment is a separate cause of action. This means that under a theory of negligent entrustment, the entrustor’s (the person lending the item) liability is not dependent on the entrustee’s (the person borrowing the item) actual liability for damages. The negligent entrustment theory of liability requires an initial finding that the entrustee was causally negligent before the negligence case against the entrustor may proceed. Furthermore, PA law prohibits the vehicle owner to allow an unlicensed person to operate the car. Again, the owner must have known or had reason to know that the individual who was authorized to operate the vehicle did not have a valid driver’s license.
Proving Negligent Entrustment
Liability for negligent entrustment is determined by applying the general principles of negligence. To prove a claim for negligently entrusting a motor vehicle to another, the general elements are as follows:
1. The owner allowed the vehicle to be operated by the person;
2. The person was an unlicensed, reckless or incompetent driver;
3. The owner knew or should have known that the person was a unlicensed, reckless or incompetent driver;
4. The driver was negligent on the occasion; and
5. The driver’s negligence caused the accident.
An unfit driver includes an intoxicated driver, unlicensed or underage driver, inexperienced driver, elder driver, ill driver or previously reckless driver. A driver’s recklessness or incompetence is determined at the time of entrustment of the vehicle. And, if the owner knew or should have known of the driver’s unfitness, liability can be imposed.
If you or a loved one was injured by the negligent entrustment of another person, you may be able to collect damages. Contact the attorneys at Solnick & Associates, LLC for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights at 215-481-9979.