Negligent Entrustment

Can you be liable if you let someone borrow your car and they get into a car accident?  The answer is “Yes” and here’s why….

What is “Negligent Entrustment?”

Negligent entrustment is a theory of legal liability.  It defines when the owner of a motor vehicle may be liable for property damage, wrongful death or personal injury from a car accident caused by someone who borrowed their car.  The most common scenario is when the owner lends their car to a friend and the friend gets into a car accident.  However, proving negligent entrustment is not necessarily that simple.  Several things must be proven before the vehicle owner can be held liable.

The Owner Must Give Permission.

First, the owner must give permission to other driver.  Likewise, if the car is stolen or the driver takes the vehicle without the owner’s permission, then the owner is not liable for negligent entrustment.

Permission may be express or implied.  For instance, if you allow a friend to borrow your vehicle to run some errands, this is an example of “express” permission.

“Implied permission” is also valid.  For example, if the owner has a child or roommate who routinely uses the vehicle without asking every time.

Be Careful about the Issue of Permission.

Be careful with the issue of permission.  It might be your first impulse to deny that you gave permission to the driver.  If you deny permissive use of the vehicle, then you might not have the coverage and protection of your insurance company when you really need it.

That doesn’t mean you should lie about giving the driver permission.  Because if you really didn’t give permission, then you wouldn’t be liable anyway.  But if the issue of permission is a close-call, you might want to consider erring on the side of permissive use.

The Driver is “Incompetent” or Unlicensed.

Second, the owner must entrust the vehicle to someone who was an incompetent or an unlicensed driver.

For example, if the owner lends their vehicle to someone who has a bad driving record, or who is known to be a reckless or incompetent driver, then the owner could be held liable for an accident.  Also, if you lend your vehicle to someone who appears to be intoxicated, you can also be liable.

If the driver does not hold a valid driver’s license, then the owner can be liable for a resulting car accident.  The owner can also be liable if the driver has a limited license, such as a learner’s permit.  Lending your vehicle to an unlicensed driver can make you liable regardless of their driving record.

The Driver Must be At Fault.

The final element of a negligent entrustment claim is that the driver must be at fault in the car accident.  That is, driver’s negligence must have caused the accident.  For instance, if the driver was rear-ended and didn’t do anything to cause the collision, then there would be no liability for negligent entrustment against the vehicle owner.  This would be true regardless of the driver’s license status or driving history.

Just remember this simple rule:  If you lend your vehicle to someone and that person causes an accident, you may be held liable if it can be shown that the driver was incompetent or unlicensed.

What if I sold my vehicle?

Be careful when you sell your vehicle.  Unfortunately many people do not register the vehicle or transfer the title as required by law.  Then, if they get into an accident, the last registered owner of the vehicle will find themselves having to defend a lawsuit for negligent entrustment.

So, what are some things you can do to protect yourself in this situation.

  • Fill out and submit vehicle transfer form.  You can use the Texas Motor Vehicle Transfer Notification form to notify proper state agency that you have sold the vehicle and no longer have possession of it.  You can even fill out and submit the form online.
  • Get a signed Bill of Sale.  It’s simple form that simply identifies the vehicle, the date of sale, the buyer, seller, as well as the sale price.  Also, make sure it is signed and dated.  Give the original to the buyer and you keep a copy.
  • Fill out and sign the Texas Application for Title Form.  This has all the information on the vehicle, buyer, seller, purchase price, dater or sale and signatures.  This form might even substitute as a bill of sale since it already contains the same information.
  • Get information on the buyer.  This would include the buyer’s name, address, telephone number, and a copy of the buyer’s driver’s license.  This way, you can prove who the buyer was when you sold the vehicle.
  • Keep the license plates.  Then just print out a Texas Transit Permit and give it to the buyer.  This is a good way to force the buyer to register the vehicle.

Make sure you keep copies of all documents you use in the sale and transfer of the vehicle, including the front and back of the executed title.  Having this information available in case you get notice of a car accident will prove to be very valuable.

For more information regarding wrongful death and personal injury cases in the Dallas & Fort Worth area,  contact Dallas Personal Injury Attorney Robert C. Slim, at (214) 321-8225, for a free consultation.

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