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Understanding negligent entrustment

Many come to the team here at the Law Offices of Carl. D. Barnes following a car accident with largely the same plans; they simply want to move on from their accidents (regardless of any frustrations they may feel towards those responsible for their collisions). Yet those frustrations may be even further compounded should they learn those responsible parties had poor driving histories.

It becomes even more difficult to ignore when it turns out that those drivers were not using their own vehicles at the time (but were rather entrusted with a car by another). It is at that point that accident victims may reasonably begin to ask whether attempting to hold the vehicle owners liable.

Vicarious liability for cat accidents

Such vicarious liability is possible due to a legal principle known as “negligent entrustment.” This doctrine applies when the owner of a potentially dangerous chattel (in this case, a motor vehicle) lends it to one likely to cause harm with it (due to either inexperience, negligence or incompetence). Given that a reasonable assumption may exist that a vehicle owner would not lend their car to someone they do not know well, one might presume that negligent entrustment applies to any instance where one causes an accident while in another’s vehicle.

California’s standard for negligent entrustment

Yet that is not the case. Per California’s Civil Jury Instructions, a plaintiff in a car accident case citing negligent entrustment must prove the following:

  • The responsible party demonstrated negligence in operating the vehicle
  • The responsible party operated the vehicle with the owner’s permission
  • The owner knew (or should have known) of the driver’s poor driving tendencies
  • Knowing this, the owner still loaned the driver the vehicle
  • The driver’s poor tendencies contributed to the accident

This would exclude any case where a driver took a vehicle without the owner’s consent.

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