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How Does Negligent Entrustment Work in a Drunk Driving Case?

  • Last Updated: March 3rd, 2023
  • By: Mike Grossman
  • Dram Shop

Negligent entrustment of a vehicle to an intoxicated driver.

When someone is hit by a drunk driver and injured or killed, that person or their family has a personal injury or wrongful death claim against the drunk driver, and possibly a third party "dram shop" case against the bar, club, or restaurant that may have over-served them.

There is another possible defendant in a drunk driving accident case, however. A person who lent or rented their vehicle to the driver may be liable as well under a theory of negligent entrustment. This means that, when someone lends a vehicle to a drunk person, they may be held responsible for what happens to the drunk driver or other motorists.

In this article we'll look at who can be held responsible when someone negligently entrusts a vehicle to an intoxicated person and the drunk driver injures them self or someone else.

Questions Answered on This Page:

  • If a drunk driver borrows a car and injures someone, who is responsible?
  • What exactly is negligent entrustment of a vehicle?

How negligent entrustment cases work.

Negligent entrustment is a common law theory in which an entrustor is liable for the negligent acts and injuries of the entrustee who he negligently lent or rented a dangerous instrument, like a weapon, volatile substance, or a car. When it comes to dram shop cases, more often than not, we're talking about a vehicle.

In a regular car accident case, for instance, if a mother knows her daughter is irresponsible and just got two speeding tickets and had a wreck, the mom may be liable for any damages suffered by other drivers if she lends her daughter the car to pick up friends for a party and the daughter has another wreck.

In this scenario, the plaintiff must prove that:

  • The entrustor (mom) knew, or should have known, that she was entrusting a dangerous instrumentality (her car) to an unsafe driver.
  • The negligent entrustment was the proximate cause of the accident (it wouldn't have happened without it.)

This second element is a little tricky. If the mom knew her daughter has a tendency to speed, but the daughter's wreck was actually caused because she was driving drunk after the party, then intoxication is the proximate cause, and the daughter's drunk driving is not something the mom could have predicted based on her speeding tickets alone. Therefore, she may not be liable under a negligent entrustment cause of action because there was an intervening cause (the daughter's alcohol consumption.)

In a negligent entrustment case involving a drunk driving crash, however, the scenario would more likely be one where an alcohol provider over-serves a drunk person, and then that person lends (negligently entrusts) his car to a friend who is also drunk, because he's too intoxicated to realize how drunk the friend actually was. In that case, the establishment who over-served the first driver would not be liable for any injuries caused by the second driver, as their over-serving was not the direct or proximate cause of the injuries.

What must be proven to win a negligent entrustment case.

Just because someone lets a friend or family member borrow a car, and the borrower then later drunkenly caused an accident, it doesn't mean you have a slam-dunk negligent entrustment claim.

Instead, your attorney must do the hard work of proving that the owner of the vehicle knew, or should have known, that the driver should NEVER have been given the keys. Three scenarios should help explain what we mean:

  1. Bob's hosting a birthday party at his house for his buddy Johnny. Everyone's pretty drunk, especially Johnny, by the time they run out of beer. Johnny, nearly falling over because of his intoxication, throws up in the yard. He then asks Bob for his car keys so he can go buy still more beer for the party. Bob agrees, Johnny drives off, and soon he hits a minivan. The victims in the minivan and their family have a claim against Bob because there's no way a reasonable person would have ever allowed Johnny to drive.
  2. Same scenario, except Johnny has only consumed one beer that afternoon. He offers to go get more beer, borrows Bob's car, but stops off at a sports bar. He spends the next two hours getting drunk, and on his way back to the party, hits the minivan. The minivan's victims have a dram shop claim against the sports bar, but not Bob---because when Bob gave Johnny the keys, he was basically sober.
  3. Johnny has just come home from rehab for alcoholism and he's living with Bob. While Bob's at work, Johnny gets drunk, steals Bob's car, and crashes into the minivan. Bob's not on the hook because the vehicle was taken without Bob's consent (he didn't allow Johnny to have the car.)

Give Grossman Law Offices a call today.

If you've been hit by a drunk driver, it's not only the drunk who could be liable for the damage done. There are bars out there that might have contributed, as well as the person who owned the car. Don't let them beat you. Give the experienced Texas dram shop attorneys at Grossman Law Offices a call at (855) 326-0000 today. We have over 25 years of experience litigating these kinds of cases, and we're confident we can answer whatever questions you may have.

Other articles about Texas dram shop cases that may be helpful:

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