Suing the Owner of a Motor Vehicle for Negligent Entrustment

In California (and in other states), those who are injured in a motor vehicle accident may actually have a claim against the owner of the motor vehicle - assuming that the owner is different than the driver - for negligent entrustment. Negligent entrustment claims essentially give the injured plaintiff the right to sue and recover damages from the vehicle owner for failing to account for the likelihood of the driver causing harm to others.

Here at the Law Offices of Brian J. O'Grady, we are experienced in handling a variety of motor vehicle accident claims, including those that have the potential for negligent entrustment recovery. If you'd like to setup a free consultation, call (650) 631-3181 to speak to an experienced San Jose motor vehicle accident attorney. We will evaluate your claims and provide further guidance on how to proceed.

Elements of a Negligent Entrustment Claim in California

The elements of a negligent entrustment are described quite succinctly in California Civil Jury Instruction (CACI) 724. According to CACI 724, the injured plaintiff successfully proves negligent entrustment if he or she can show that:

  1. the driver was negligent;
  2. the defendant owned or otherwise possessed the vehicle that the driver was operating at the time of the accident at-issue;
  3. the defendant knew or should have known that the driver was incompetent or unfit to drive the vehicle;
  4. the defendant permitted the driver to operate the vehicle; and
  5. the driver's incompetence or unfitness to drive was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff to suffer harm.

Phew - that's a lot to take in at once! Fortunately, in practical terms, the typical negligent entrustment claim turns on just a few of these elements. Remember, for the most part, you will not assert negligent entrustment unless it is clear that the driver acted negligently and in doing so caused you to suffer harm - further, the ownership of the vehicle will be easy to determine after an investigation.

Ultimately, then, the success of your negligent entrustment claim will mostly depend on proving that the driver was incompetent, and that the defendant knew or should have known that the driver was incompetent (and still permitted them to operate the vehicle). Whether a driver is incompetent or unfit to drive is subject to a circumstantial analysis, but as a general rule, if the driver was intoxicated, underage, unlicensed or inadequately licensed, or has some condition (physical or mental) that exposes others to heightened danger, then the driver will likely be deemed incompetent/unfit.

It's not always so straightforward, however - to satisfy the negligent entrustment elements, you must also show that the defendant was aware of the driver's incompetence. Let's take a look at how that works.

Awareness of Incompetence Can Be Difficult to Prove

Vehicle owners are not absolute guarantors of safety. In other words, you cannot hold the vehicle owner liable simply because you were injured by the driver they permitted to operate the vehicle - you will have to show that the owner knew or should have known about the incompetence/unfitness of the driver. This knowledge serves as a critical link in the liability chain.

Whether the defendant knew or should have known about the driver's incompetence is quite fact-dependent. The court will determine whether a reasonable person in similar circumstances would have known about the incompetence at-issue - if this imagined, reasonable person would have known, then the defendant may be held liable.

Defendants "should" know about the incompetence of a driver if:

  • The driver has a poor driving record;
  • The driver has a history of alcoholism or drug abuse;
  • The driver was clearly physically/mentally unfit at the time that the defendant gave permission;
  • The driver explicitly told the defendant about their plans to drive negligently (i.e., the driver explained that he had to speed to work).
  • And more

Schedule a Free Consultation with an Experienced San Jose Motor Vehicle Accident Attorney

Have you suffered an injury in a motor vehicle accident that was caused by the defendant's negligence or wrongful misconduct? If so, then you may have a right of action (to recover damages) against both the defendant and the owner of the vehicle under California law.

In California, as in other states, however, a negligent entrustment claim is rather difficult to prove. You will have to create a persuasive argument that successfully demonstrates both the incompetence of the driver and the awareness of the vehicle owner.

Attorney Brian J. O'Grady has nearly four decades of experience litigating personal injury claims in California, including motor vehicle accident claims. Here at the Law Offices of Brian J. O'Grady, we are well-equipped to litigate unique motor vehicle accident issues, such as negligent entrustment - thanks to our extensive litigation experience, we understand the contours of a negligent entrustment claim and how best to present it to the court so as to secure maximum compensation.

Call (650) 631-3181 or submit a short case evaluation form to schedule a free and confidential consultation with an experienced San Jose motor vehicle accident attorney. We look forward to assisting you with your claims, and ensuring that you obtain the damages you deserve.