In some circumstances, an owner of the vehicle can be held accountable for its use by another person. This concept is called negligent entrustment. Car accident lawyers in Texas use this concept to hold others accountable for injury accidents. This article answers the following three questions:
- What is negligent entrustment in Texas?
- What must you prove to sue for negligent entrustment?
- Who is responsible if you are hurt by a driver who did not own the car?
What is Negligent Entrustment?
Negligent entrustment is entrusting a vehicle or equipment to someone who should not be driving or using the equipment.
Elements of Negligent Entrustment
In Texas, a claim of negligently entrusting a motor vehicle can establish legal liability if the plaintiff can prove the following:
* An owner provided or allowed the car (or other equipment) to be used by another;
* A person driving was unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless;
* They knew or should have known of the incompetency of the driver or his or her recklessness;
* The driver was negligent and caused the accident.
Providing the Vehicle
Entrustment permits a driver to use the vehicle, and the critical time is when the car is lent. Permission to use the vehicle can also be implied through a course of conduct or a lack of objection to its use.
It is perfectly legal in Texas to lend property to anyone you want to lend the property to. If your neighbor came over and asked to borrow a shovel, it is perfectly acceptable to lend him the shovel. You own the property. You have the right to do with it as you want.
The same applies to your vehicle. You have the right to lend your vehicle to others, whereas negligent entrustment is where you allow the use of the vehicle to someone when you probably should not have.
Negligent entrustment can also be used as a legal theory in cases other than a car crash. For instance, if an operator of heavy machinery was not trained or qualified and caused a construction site accident, a claim can be made for negligent entrustment. A commercial vehicle accident could be where you allowed a driver to drive who did not have the proper license.
Unlicensed, Incompetent, or Reckless
If you loan your vehicle to someone who does not have a driver’s license and is not capable of driving safely, you might get sued for negligent entrustment if they are in an accident that was their fault. Negligent entrustment can include more than merely unlicensed drivers, and the most common situation is where someone that’s a person take their car after they know facts that indicate that the driver should not be behind the wheel.
Drinking or Drug Use Common With Negligent Entrustment
The most common situation is where someone lets another person drive their car, knowing that they have been drinking or perhaps using drugs. In cases like these, punitive damages might be sought.
Real-World Examples of Negligent Entrustment
Let’s say that your brother asks to borrow your car and you let him use it. That is perfectly acceptable. What if your brother had been drinking when you agreed to let them use the vehicle? If your brother gets into an accident and is found to have been legally intoxicated, you may get sued under a negligent entrustment theory. This means you did not cause the accident by driving, but you were negligent in loaning your vehicle to a driver you knew was drinking.
However, let’s say that your brother was an alcoholic. You loaned your brother the vehicle knowing he had an alcohol problem – are you in trouble under a negligent entrustment theory if he has a wreck? Maybe – if you loaned your vehicle to a known alcoholic and they were drunk at the time of the car accident, negligent entrustment may be pursued against you.
However, if your brother had a driver’s license and was not intoxicated at the time of his accident, a negligent entrustment lawsuit against you will probably not be successful.
If a trucking company hired a driver not qualified to drive a big rig, that company might be pursued under negligent entrustment claims. Our Houston truck accident lawyers have won many cases against trucking companies with unqualified drivers.
Of course, there are many other causes of action and ways to prove negligence in a truck accident case.
The Critical Time is When The Vehicle Is Given
There are many common causes of car accidents. One situation is the driver should not have been behind the wheel and another shares responsibility for allowing them to drive. The driver’s recklessness or dangerousness should be determined when the vehicle was lent to the driver. In our example, if you loaned your car to your brother, and he had not been drinking before you loaned him the car. But later on, your brother stopped by a bar, got drunk, left, and then caused a drunk driving car accident.
If you were not negligent in loaning him the vehicle, you would not be held liable for negligent entrustment. The bar might have a separate issue if they were knowingly over-serving him under a dram shop lawsuit.
Of course, there are other ways that an owner of a motor vehicle may be liable for its use, such as an employee who is on the job for the company at the time of an accident and in the course and scope of their employment.
The case of Williams v. Steves Industries, Inc. provides the elements of negligent entrustment, which are: (1) entrustment of a vehicle by the owner; (2) to an unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless driver; (3) that the owner knew or should have known to be unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless; (4) that the driver was negligent; and (5) that the driver’s negligence caused the accident.
Suffered an Injury and Have Questions About Negligent Entrustment in Texas?
If your loved one has been injured in an accident in Harris County, Texas, and has questions regarding whether the doctrine of negligent entrustment may apply, look for the best personal injury attorney in Houston to discuss the matter with them as soon as possible after the accident.
If you have questions about an injury accident, call us for a free consultation.
Our personal injury lawyers in Houston have been helping the injured for over three decades. Call us for a consultation or send us an email.