What happens when you hand over the keys?
Negligent entrustment exposes vehicle owners to potential liabilities when lending their cars, especially to young or reckless drivers. Preventive measures, including proper education and assessment, can mitigate these dangers and lead to safer roads for all.
When a car accident occurs, the aftermath is often more complicated than simply determining which driver was at fault. Sometimes, the root of the problem traces all the way back to the decision to lend the vehicle in the first place. This concept, known in legal circles as negligent entrustment, might be unfamiliar to most, but it’s an important concept to understand, particularly if you’re the parent of a young driver.
What is negligent entrustment?
Negligent entrustment arises when one party (typically the owner of a vehicle) allows another party, who is inexperienced, impaired, or otherwise unfit to drive, to use their vehicle.
Here are the elements of a negligent entrustment claim:
- The car owner lent their vehicle;
- To someone who is unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless;
- The owner was aware or should've known that the person was unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless;
- That person drove carelessly at that specific time; and
- Their careless driving directly led to the accident and the injuries of the affected person.
To help clarify the idea of negligent entrustment, consider the following hypothetical:
On a pleasant Saturday afternoon, Mrs. Jensen was preparing for a barbecue in her backyard. She had recently purchased a brand-new, high-powered SUV, which sat shining in her driveway. Her 19-year-old nephew, Danny, was visiting for the summer. Everyone in the family was aware that Danny had his license revoked a few months ago due to reckless driving and a DUI charge.
As Mrs. Jensen was setting up the grill, Danny approached, admiring the SUV. "Mrs. Jensen, that's a beauty! Do you think I could take it for a spin around the block?" he asked. Knowing his history but believing a quick spin around the block couldn’t hurt, Mrs. Jensen handed over the keys and reminded Danny to be careful.
Twenty minutes later, a neighbor rushed over to inform Mrs. Jensen of a crash involving her SUV two streets away. Danny had collided with another vehicle at an intersection, causing significant damage and injuring the other driver.
While it was clear that Danny's recklessness was a direct cause, Mrs. Jensen's decision to entrust her SUV to someone she knew was unlicensed and had a history of unsafe driving puts her in the crosshairs of a potential negligent entrustment lawsuit.
The implications of negligent entrustment for parents and guardians
Being a parent isn't just about keeping your child safe on the road; it also involves recognizing other broader responsibilities. While teens can't wait to drive, it's your responsibility to judge their preparedness. Remember, you're not just risking the safety of other drivers. If you lend your car to someone impaired or with a reckless past, you're opening the door to legal problems.
If there's an accident and you’re sued for negligent entrustment, the resulting costs could be huge, even putting your home or future income at risk if the costs exceed your insurance limits. Parents need to realize the high stakes and think deeply before letting someone else drive their vehicle.
Learn more about civil judgments, including tools, such as wage garnishment, that can be used to enforce a judgment.
Other things to understand when you let someone borrow your car
Although negligent entrustment is perhaps the most common legal tool used to hold a parent accountable for the actions of a young driver, there are a couple of other potential legal options, depending on the laws of the states where the accident occurred:
- Family car doctrine: In certain states, when a vehicle is bought and kept for overall family purposes, the vehicle's owner (typically a parent or guardian) is held accountable for any careless driving by any family member using that vehicle.
- License endorsement: In certain states, the individual who endorses a young person's driving license request is held legally liable for the young driver's carelessness on the road. Accordingly, if a guardian or parent provides their signature on the request, they may be held responsible for any negligence on the part of the young driver.
Prevention: The Best Strategy
It's better to prevent than to remedy, especially when lives hang in the balance. Consider these steps before lending someone your vehicle:
- Evaluate the Driver: Before lending out your vehicle, assess the potential driver's competence, history, and current state. Are they tired, under the influence, or emotionally unstable? If there's any doubt, it's best not to allow them to drive.
- Educate and Inform: Ensure that young drivers understand the responsibilities associated with driving. Share stories, statistics, and potential legal implications to drive home the message.
- Regular Check-ins: For parents of teen drivers, consider setting a schedule to discuss driving experiences, challenges, and lessons learned on the road.