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Negligent entrustment claims arise when an unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless driver causes damages while driving a motor vehicle owned by someone else. A party injured by such a driver must generally prove five components of this tort:
(1) that the owner entrusted the vehicle to the driver;
(2) that the driver was unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless;
(3) that the owner knew or should have known that the driver was unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless;
(4) that the driver was negligent in the operation of the vehicle;
and (5) that the driver's Negligence resulted in damages (Amaya v. Potter, 94 S.W.3d 856 [Tex. App. 2002]).
If a plaintiff proves these elements, an owner may be liable for the full amount of damages caused by the driver. In some instances, the plaintiff may also recover Punitive Damages from the owner, particularly if the owner himself acted recklessly in entrusting the vehicle to the driver (Allstate Ins. Co. v. Wade, 579 S.E.2d 180 [Va. 2003]).
What Constitutes negligent entrustment in Alabama?
We are often asked if a parent or an owner of a vehicle is responsible for the conduct of another person or child using a vehicle with permission. In most cases, neither a parent of a child, or the owner of a vehicle, are liable for injuries caused by another person using their vehicle. Being the parent of a driver or the owner of a vehicle does not subject a person to claims for injuries or other damages.
A person or a business can be responsible for the actions of their agents or employees.
A parent of a driver or an owner of a vehicle can be held liable for injuries, if there is evidence they negligently entrusted the vehicle to the driver. Under Alabama law, the essential elements of an action for negligent entrustment are:
(1) an entrustment;
(2) to an incompetent;
(3) with knowledge that he is incompetent;
(4) proximate cause;
and (5) damages.
Edwards v. Valentine, 926 So. 2d. 315 (Ala. 2005).
Entrustment of a vehicle can include expressly loaning a vehicle on a specific occasion, continuously allowing consent to use a vehicle, or merely leaving a vehicle available for use. In the event where a vehicle is left for use, a parent or an owner may be responsible even when he or she did not provide permission to use the vehicle when there is evidence that the person who was driving the vehicle was likely to use it without authorization and that the parent or owner failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent such unauthorized use.
In order for a parent or owner to be responsible for negligent entrustment, there must be evidence that the driver of the vehicle was “incompetent” to drive safely. The term “incompetent” in this context means that the person is someone that is not “a reasonably safe person” or someone that is likely to use the vehicle dangerously. This may be someone who does not have the proper training or experience with a particular type of vehicle. Incompetence may also be demonstrated by showing specific acts such as previous acts of negligent or reckless driving, previous wrecks or instances of driving while intoxicated. Cases involving drunk driving are especially open to claims of negligent entrustment, because the Alabama Supreme Court has concluded “that one who is an habitual drunkard is an incompetent driver.” McGowin v. Howard, 251 Ala. 204, 208, 36 So. 2d 323, 325 (1948).
If you or a loved one has been injured by a driver who was negligently entrusted with an automobile, we can help.
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