In the event of a vehicle collision, others may be liable for injuries caused by the collision in addition to the negligent driver who caused the crash in the first place. The owner or “possessor” (for example, a lessor) of the vehicle can be liable by negligently entrusting the vehicle to the at-fault driver.
Negligent entrustment by the owner of the vehicle occurs when the owner knows, or should know, that the driver was incompetent or unfit to drive the vehicle, the owner permitted the driver to drive it and that incompetence or unfitness caused the crash.
Ownership is shown by outright ownership of the vehicle, possession of the vehicle via the owner’s permission or co-ownership. The owner must also in one way or another permit the driver to use the vehicle, be it with explicit or implicit permission. If the driver took the car keys without the owner’s permission, then negligent entrustment would be very difficult to prove. If the keys were left in the open and the owner knew or should have known that the driver would use them.
The owner’s knowledge of incompetence or unfitness can be shown in many ways. For example, the owner knew the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the driver was unlicensed or the license was suspended, the driver was poorly qualified to drive the particular vehicle, had a physical or mental incapacity to drive, was prone to cause a crash, etc. This knowledge can also apply to rental companies if they rental a vehicle to one they should know is incompetent to operate it. for example, renting a hauling truck to one who is not licensed or experienced enough to operate it.
If the negligent driver is operating an employer’s vehicle, negligent entrustment can still arise, plus liability can also apply to the employer if the driver was working in the scope of their employment at the time (a legal theory called respondeat superior). Investigation by your attorney pre-litigation and during the litigation can expose the employer’s potential liability.