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Negligent Entrustment: Are you Liable for Allowing A Drunk Person to Drive Your Car?

Picture this likely scenario: a group of twenty-somethings are partying at a football game. They're tailgating before the game, drinking throughout the game, and then having a few more alcoholic beverages after the game at the car. The owner of the vehicle does not feel he's able to drive safely. Another party asserts that he is well able to operate the vehicle, so the owner gives him the keys. Unfortunately, that driver is also intoxicated and in no shape to operate the vehicle. In driving out of the stadium parking lot, the driver strikes a significantly injures a pedestrian. The injured then sues the party who owns the car. After all, the owner had "entrusted" it into the possession of his intoxicated friend.

Negligent entrustment occurs when the owner of a vehicle allows a person to take control of the vehicle even though that person is in no shape to operate it. That usually means the person taking control is drunk or otherwise intoxicated. Liability arises when there is a resulting car accident, injuries, and damages.

There are other plausible scenarios besides the one above, of course. The law says that in order to establish negligent entrustment, a plaintiff has the burden of proving: (1) that the defendant had control of the vehicle in question; and (2) that the entrustor had actual knowledge of the unfitness of the entrustee.

Without the experience of litigating these cases, you might naturally be thinking that the party who owned the car didn't necessarily know the driver was intoxicated because he (the owner) had been drinking, too. That, however, likely won't serve as an excuse from the jury's perspective, particularly as the owner apparently became voluntarily intoxicated, with no realistic plan of a sober driver getting the group home.

It's important that you understand that the purpose of seeking a negligent entrustment action is to extend liability to the owner of the vehicle, instead of just the driver. It also may be relevant to your case to know that these cases do include actions outside of intoxication.

Think, for example, about this hypothetical: an individual is simply an awful driver. Every time he gets behind the wheel, he has caused an accident. This has resulted in his driver's license being suspended. Nonetheless, he needs something at the store and asks his friend if he can borrow the friend's car. The friend, knowing how terrible of a driver the person is and also that his license is suspended, feels bad for him--knowing that the store is less than a mile away, the friend agrees. Then the unlicensed driver hits a pedestrian who is crossing the street in a crosswalk. Again, same analysis: the concept of negligent entrustment applies.

This theory is helpful to understand from all perspectives. If you are a party who has been injured in a car accident, you will need to do some research as to who actually owns the vehicle. If a person who owns the vehicle is different from the driver, there may be an additional insurance policy to identify, against which you may be able to submit a claim and recover.

If you're the owner of a vehicle, it's helpful to know that by letting someone driver your car who is not able to drive, you put yourself at risk of someone getting injured in a car accident and then seeking damages from you.

Lastly, if you 're one who is intoxicated or simply a horrible driver, you put your friend at risk when you ask to drive your friend's car. When someone is subsequently injured, your friend may be liable.

If you would like to learn more about being made whole as a result of damage that you’ve incurred, or if you would like to learn more about damages in a personal injury case, call us for a free consultation at 617-657-HURT (4878) or fill out our contact form here.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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