Can I be sued if I let someone else drive my car? A primer on negligent entrustment
In Ohio, the owner of a motor vehicle can be held liable for injuries sustained by a third-party when the owner permits his car to be driven by another person. This concept is called negligent entrustment and is often litigated when the negligent driver lacks automobile insurance.
Liability for Allowing Someone Else to Drive Your CarImagine letting a family member or a friend borrow your car, only to later learn that they drove negligently, wrecked your car, and caused injuries to a third-party. Terrible, right? But what if the person you entrusted your car with lacked car insurance? Could you be held liable for the injuries your family member or friend caused? Under Ohio law, the answer is: quite possibly.
The concept of holding the owner of a motor vehicle liable for injuries caused by a third-party that was entrusted with the operation of the car is called negligent entrustment.
An owner of a motor vehicle may be liable for injuries inflicted by its operation by one whom he has permitted to drive the automobile on the ground that such person, because of youth, or inexperience, or a physical or mental condition, or a known habit or recklessness, is incompetent to safely operate an automobile. 4 Berry on Automobiles, 7th Ed., 710, Section 4.406.
If the person given the automobile is so incompetent and incapable or properly running the automobile, the owner of the automobile will be held accountable for the damage done because the owner's negligence in entrusting the car to an incompetent person is deemed to be the proximate cause of the damage.
Negligent entrustment lawsuits a typically found when an individual permits a person who is uninsured to drive an automobile. If the entrustee gets in a wreck and lacks insurance to compensate the injured party, the injured party's insurance company will often sue the owner of the vehicle under a negligent entrustment theory. This is because the uninsured negligent driver typically lacks the funds to compensate the insurance company for the money it spent on fixing the insured driver's vehicle. Thus, the insurance company looks to the owner of the vehicle as a source of funds.
Ways a Person Could be Held Liable for Negligent EntrustmentBased upon prior rulings by the Ohio Supreme Court and Ohio Appellate Courts, it is difficult to hold the owner of a motor vehicle liable for injuries caused by a third-party that was entrusted with the operation of the owner's motor vehicle.
According to Ohio courts, liability arises when a motor vehicle owner permits the operation of the motor vehicle by a third-party who is so lacking in competency and still as to convert the motor vehicle into a dangerous instrumentality. Williamson v. Eclipse Motor Lines, 145 Ohio St. 467, Syllabus (1945).
To give rise to liability for negligent entrustment, it is essential that it be shown to the court that the owner had knowledge of the third-party's incompetence, inexperience, or recklessness as a driver, or, the owner, in the exercise of ordinary care, should have known of the third-party's incompetence, inexperience, or recklessness based upon facts and circumstances with which the owner was acquainted. Id.
These cases are determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the unique facts and circumstances of each case. However, there are a number of facts that a court will consider when determining whether to hold an owner liable for injuries caused by a third-party. These facts are:
- Whether the entrustee had prior accidents;
- Whether the enstrutee had a valid driver's license;
- Whether the enstrustee had prior convictions based upon the use of alcohol and operation of a motor vehicle (OVI);
- Whether the entrustee had plans to drink alcohol and operate the motor vehicle;
- The age of the entrustee.
Because these cases are determined individually, the court will make a determination, based upon the facts presented, whether the facts, taken as a whole, show that the owner of a vehicle negligently entrusted the vehicle to a third-party. For example, in an Ohio Supreme Court case from the mid-20th Century, an owner of a motor vehicle was found not to have negligently entrusted his automobile to a 17 year old driver even though the driver had been cited at the age of 15 for lacking an operating license, had been cited at the age of 16 for speeding, and had been cited earlier in the year at the age of 17 for OVI. Those facts, taken together, where not enough to prove negligent entrustment, because, according to the court, the facts did not show that the 17 year old driver was so lacking in competency and skill.