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What Is Negligent Entrustment of a Motor Vehicle?

Letting A Potentially Dangerous Driver Borrow A Vehicle Is Negligent Entrustment In Texas.

The law usually holds people responsible for their own direct actions. For example, if a husband and wife own a car and the husband gets arrested for drunk driving, the wife isn't also sent to jail. But under certain circumstances in car accident cases there are times when a victim can and should file a lawsuit against the driver and the car's owner.

Why? Because in rare circumstances, the owner had no business ever allowing the driver to take the car out on the road. This is called "negligent entrustment." While any number of types of personal property (guns, cars, motorcycles, etc.) can be negligently entrusted to someone, our focus in this article will be Texas law with respect to the negligent entrustment of cars, specifically.

Questions answered on this page:

  • What is negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle?
  • What are the elements of a negligent entrustment case under Texas law?
  • Can you sue the owner of a vehicle for letting someone borrow it?
  • If you're hurt in a car accident by someone that borrowed a car, who is responsible, the owner or the driver?
  • In an accident with a borrowed car, whose insurance pays for your injuries, the owner's insurance or the driver's insurance?

What is negligent entrustment?

It's legal to let friends and relatives borrow your personal property. Whether we're talking about your Xbox, your dog, your gun, or your Honda Civic, a person is well within their rights to lend these things out. However, the law requires that the lender make a reasonable assessment of the borrower's ability to safely operate the property they've been lent.

For example, lets say that John's friend Robert asks to borrow John's gun. Robert says he's going to take the gun and hang out at a public playground. Given this knowledge, John should think long and hard about whether or not he should lend Robert his gun.

This same principle apples to cars. To better illustrate this, let's look at another example. Lets say that Robert asks John to borrow his car. Well, John knows Robert to be a safe driver, so he says yes. There's nothing wrong with this. It's all perfectly legal. Now, lets change things up a bit and say that Robert asks John to borrow his car, but a month before, Robert had borrowed John's car, gotten drunk, and crashed it into the front of a gas station. Given that knowledge, John should think twice before lending his car to Robert again. If Robert takes the car and gets into another accident, John could potentially be held liable.

The long and short of it is, if you're going to let someone borrow your car, you have to believe that they're going to use it responsibly.

What are the elements of a negligent entrustment case?

The first thing to be established in a negligent entrustment case is that the car owner entrusted their vehicle to another person. In other words, the driver didn't steal the car or take it without permission. It wouldn't be just to hold an owner responsible for something he literally had no hand in. While this sounds simple enough, when faced with serious liability, owners often have amnesia about letting the driver take the car. Your attorney will need to put in some effort to prove the "entrustment" aspect.

The second element that must be proven is that the driver to whom the car was entrusted was deficient in some capacity that should have kept them out of the driver's seat. This might mean that the person was unlicensed, incompetent, or would simply be considered a reckless driver. For instance, we've seen plenty of cases where the person who borrowed the car is a known alcoholic and has been involved in several prior car accidents due to their drunkenness. Or, we've had cases where the driver was literally drunk the moment the keys were handed over. Proving a driver's incompetence many months after an accident requires a thorough investigation, testimony, and often enough, witness statements.

Here's another example: During a raucous 4th of July celebration, some revelers complain that the host has run out of alcohol. John, who's busy cooking hotdogs, tells Robert to take his car to the liquor store and buy some more beer. Several witnesses later admit that Robert stumbled over to John, could barely see straight, and reeked of alcohol. This would satisfy the first 2 elements.

Your attorney must then prove the owner knew that the driver's deficiency made them unfit for driving. Going back to the example we just used, lets say that Robert was an alcoholic. John knew that Robert had a history of alcoholism, knew that Robert had prior accidents caused by drunkenness, and knew that Robert when he lent the car out. If Robert caused an accident, John could be held liable for any resulting injuries.

After all this, a lawyer must prove that the driver was specifically negligent on this occasion. This means that the accident must have been caused by the driver's actual negligence. For example, say the driver is a known alcoholic and has a prior history of causing car accidents. However, at the time of your accident, the driver was sober, they were obeying all traffic laws, and the accident was simply caused by the brakes malfunctioning. This would not qualify as justification for a negligent entrustment claim. You must prove that the driver specifically acted negligently at the precise moment in question.

Back to the John and Robert scenario. Instead of being intoxicated, Robert had as-yet-undiagnosed epilepsy. If Robert were to have an episode and crash into another driver, John would not be liable since he didn't know of Robert's problem.

Finally, your attorney must be able to prove that the driver's negligence was the direct cause of your injuries. If your car accident was not directly caused by the driver's negligence, you will not be able to establish a legitimate negligent entrustment claim. What's more, even if the driver plainly caused the accident, your injuries must be shown to have been the direct result of the crash. This final element can be very complex and challenging to prove. The attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have been helping victims like you for 25 years. To discuss your car accident and potential negligent entrustment claim, call us at (855) 326-0000.

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