There are some auto accident cases in which a party who was not driving the vehicle could be held liable for the crash. One common scenario in which this could occur is when a vehicle owner allows another person to drive the vehicle, and that person is known to be inexperienced or incompetent. When that driver causes harm to another individual (or individuals), the legal doctrine known as “negligent entrustment” could come into play.
In order for a negligent entrustment action to be successful, several elements must be proven:
- The defendant (who negligently entrusted the vehicle to someone else) owned, leased, or otherwise had control of the vehicle.
- The person who the defendant loaned the vehicle to operated it in a reckless, careless, or negligent manner.
- The defendant knew (or should have known) that the driver of the vehicle was inexperienced, incompetent, or known to operate a vehicle unsafely.
- The vehicle driver’s negligence or recklessness contributed substantially to the accident that resulted in injury or death to others.
Knowledge of Unfitness to Drive a Vehicle
It is important to point out that in order for a negligent entrustment claim to be successful, it must be proven that the owner or lessor of the vehicle had knowledge or should have reasonably known that the person they loaned the vehicle to was unfit to drive. The simple fact that someone loaned the vehicle to another person whose negligence caused an accident is not enough to establish negligent entrustment. There has to be some evidence that the driver was known to be unfit.
Some examples of individuals who would be unfit to operate a vehicle include:
- An individual who does not have a valid driver’s license.
- An individual who does not have the proper experience and/or training to operate the vehicle they were driving (for example, someone driving a large commercial truck without the required training).
- An elderly individual or someone who has a medical condition like epilepsy that makes them more susceptible to seizures while behind the wheel.
- An individual who has a history of reckless driving.
- An individual who was chemically impaired at the time the vehicle was loaned to them and/or has a history of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
One circumstance in which the negligent entrustment doctrine could be used is when a parent or grandparent loans their car out to a teenage child, even though they know that the teen driver lacks the maturity to safely operate the vehicle. For example, maybe the teen has already received a couple of speeding tickets, or maybe they have been previously cited for texting while driving.
Another instance in which negligent entrustment could be used is if a friend or roommate loans their vehicle to someone who is already drunk, or who they know is likely to go out and drink before returning the vehicle to them. If it can be shown that the owner or lessor of the vehicle knew that the driver was drinking or that they had a history of driving drunk, then it may be possible to hold them liable for any accident that might occur.
Negligent Entrustment Defenses
When bringing a negligent entrustment claim against the owner or lesser of the vehicle, you are likely to encounter various defenses that will be used in an attempt to escape liability. These may include:
- Driver Not Unfit: As we talked but earlier, establishing driver incompetence is essential to the success of a negligent entrustment claim. Therefore, you will need a substantial amount of evidence to show the individual’s unfitness to drive a vehicle safely.
- Owner/Lessor was Unaware of Driver’s Unfitness: The vehicle owner cannot be held responsible if they could not have reasonably known about the driver’s unfitness. For example, if a parent loaned their car to a teen child who did not have any tickets and had no history of reckless or drunk driving, they could claim that they were not aware of this risk factor.
- Owner Never Gave Permission to Drive the Vehicle: In cases like the friend or roommate who borrows the car to an unfit driver, one defense might be the claim that they never gave the individual permission to drive the car. If a vehicle was clearly stolen before being involved in an accident that harmed others, then this would likely be a valid defense. But in some cases, it could become a “he said she said” situation, with the success of the case hinging largely on the strength of the arguments presented by each party’s legal counsels.
Injured in a Vehicle Crash in Alabama? Contact an Experienced Auto Accident Lawyer
Some vehicle accident cases are more complicated than they first seem, and there could be an outside party that is responsible for the crash. In cases like these, you will need a seasoned car accident lawyer who has the proven ability to hold all responsible parties fully accountable.
If you or someone close to you got injured in an auto accident in Alabama, Burge & Burge is ready to go to work for you. Message us online or call our office today at 205-251-9000 for a free consultation with one of our attorneys.