Consider the following scenario. You are driving your own vehicle safely and legally when you are struck (and seriously injured) by a speeding driver who tried to beat a yellow light through the intersection. You find out a short time later that the person who hit you didn’t own the car. Instead, they were borrowing it from a friend or family member.
It seems clear that the negligent driver is liable for the crash, but what about the car’s owner? Is that person also considered at fault? In certain cases, the answer is yes. In this post, we’ll discuss the idea of “negligent entrustment” in car accident cases.
Did the owner know that the driver was unfit?
In California, a car owner can be liable for negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle when they loan the car to someone that they know (or should know) is unfit to drive, who then goes on to cause an accident. An example would be loaning a car to a friend with a very poor driving record, or someone with a frequent and recent history of drunk driving.
Here are the five elements that plaintiffs must demonstrate to prove negligent entrustment, according to California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 724:
- The person driving the car drove negligently
- The person accused of negligent entrustment owned the car
- The owner knew or had reason to know that the person borrowing the car was incompetent and/or unfit to drive
- The owner allowed the driver to borrow and drive the vehicle
- The driver’s unfitness was a “substantial factor” in the harm the plaintiff suffered
The California Vehicle Code also has several provisions regarding the duty of care that car owners have to avoid loaning their car to unfit drivers. CVC 14606 prohibits allowing an unlicensed driver to operate the vehicle, while CVC 14607 has similar prohibitions about any unlicensed driver under age 18. CVC 14608 makes it illegal to rent a vehicle to someone unless that person has a valid license and you have inspected it to ensure its validity.
Can you sue parents who let their newly licensed teen borrow the car?
This seems like it would be perfect scenario for a negligent entrustment case. After all, newly licensed teens are inexperienced, and they rarely ever own the car they are driving. There are likely millions of stories of accidents that occur within the first few months after passing a driver’s test.
It may be possible in some cases to sue the parents of a new driver who causes an accident, but doing so is more difficult than it sounds. This is because of two common defenses to claims of negligent entrustment. The first defense is demonstrating that the owner’s entrustment of their vehicle was consistent with what most other reasonable people would have done under the same circumstances. Most parents loan the family car to their teen drivers until and unless they have a good reason to prohibit use of the vehicle.
The second defense is claiming that the car owner didn’t know (and had no reason to know) that the driver was unfit. Newly licensed teen drivers have no driving record to speak of. Inexperience alone doesn’t make them bad drivers per se – just inexperienced. If the teen passed their test, that would be evidence to most parents that their child was fit to drive.
To be successful in a case like this, you would likely need to demonstrate that there was other evidence showing the teen’s irresponsibility, such as criminal history or recent substance abuse issues.
Discuss Your Case With Our Experienced Attorneys For Free
If you’ve been seriously injured by a negligent driver, it is important to understand your full range of legal options. Negligent entrustment might be applicable in your case, but you should consult with the attorneys at Woods Williford, P.C., to be sure. We have decades of experience in California injury law, and we offer free initial consultations to prospective clients. Contact us today to schedule your first meeting.