In most Virginia car accidents, the driver at fault is responsible for compensating injured victims. In some situations, however, the car owner also may be liable for accident injuries. That can be true even if the owner was not present and was not driving the car. Virginia courts recognize a doctrine called negligent entrustment that imposes liability on the car owner under specific circumstances.
Negligent Entrustment Explained
Negligent entrustment is a legal rule that may impose responsibility on a third party in personal injury cases. Most often, it applies in car accident cases, but it can also apply in other types of cases.
Under the rule, a person may be responsible for injuries to victims if he or she gives another individual permission to use an instrument (like a car), when the owner knows or has reason to know that giving permission creates an unreasonable risk of harm to the user and others. If a driver is an unfit, impaired, or otherwise unsafe driver, allowing that person to drive creates a risk of harm to others and to the driver. If a car owner permits an unfit or impaired person to use a car, the theory of negligent entrustment may make the car owner legally liable for injuries that result.
In a car accident case, there are three requirements for a car owner to be liable under the theory of negligent entrustment:
- The at-fault driver had the owner’s express or implied permission to drive the vehicle;
- The owner knew or should have known that permitting the driver to use the vehicle created an unreasonable risk of harm to others and to the driver, because the driver was unfit or incapable of safely operating the vehicle (this element constitutes negligent entrustment); and
- The negligent entrustment was a proximate (direct) cause of the victim’s injuries.
In any accident case, all three requirements must demonstrated by the factual evidence in the case. If a case goes to trial, the judge or jury makes the decision about whether the requirements are present.
What Constitutes Negligent Entrustment?
There are a number of types of circumstances in which the rule of negligent entrustment may apply. It is important to remember that whether it applies will depend entirely on the facts of each specific case.
The most obvious example of negligent entrustment involves allowing someone who is obviously intoxicated to drive your car. A similar situation would be allowing someone with impaired eyesight to drive your car. Giving your car keys to an unlicensed driver may also constitute negligent entrustment. In all these cases, for you as the owner to be legally liable, all three requirements noted above still apply.
Negligent entrustment may apply in employment situations. If the employer provides an employee with access to a vehicle when the employer knew or should have known that the employee was an unfit driver, the employer may be liable for negligent entrustment. In this situation, as in other situations, an established pattern of behavior (such as traffic tickets and prior accidents) may be used to demonstrate the negligence of the employer.
Negligent entrustment can also apply in a different type of case — one not involving an unfit driver. If the owner of a car knows (or should know) that the car has a safety defect that could cause an accident, and the owner permits another person to drive the car, the owner may be liable for resulting injuries.
Compensation in Negligent Entrustment Cases
If the negligent entrustment rule applies in a case, both the car owner and the at-fault driver may be liable for compensating injured victims. That means that there may be two different insurance companies responsible for paying the victims — the car owner’s insurance company and the at-fault driver’s insurance company. The availability of compensation from two insurance policies is especially important if the driver’s policy limits are inadequate to compensate injured victims, or if the at-fault driver has no insurance.
If you suffered serious injuries in an accident, your attorney will investigate the accident thoroughly to determine whether the circumstances may create a negligent entrustment claim. Making that determination is something you really cannot do by yourself. It is one of a number of reasons why you should talk with a personal injury attorney when you’ve been seriously injured in a car accident.
A Car Owner Can Be Liable for Accident Injuries
Every car owner should understand the doctrine of negligent entrustment. The legal rule can impose liability on the owner of a car for injuries suffered in an accident even when the owner was not present and was not driving the car.
Giving the keys to your car to anyone who may be impaired by alcohol or otherwise unfit to drive puts innocent people at risk. If you are asked to loan your car to someone who may be impaired or unfit to drive, just don’t do it. You could end up being legally responsible for compensating the victims who suffer harm because of your decision.
If You’ve Been Seriously Injured in a Car Accident, Talk With a Trusted Virginia Beach Personal Injury Lawyer
Whether or not your car accident injuries resulted from a negligent entrustment situation, it is essential to retain a personal injury attorney when another person caused the accident that seriously injured you. Jeffrey Brooke is a trusted, respected Virginia Beach attorney dedicated to helping injured victims and their families. The Jeff Brooke Team will vigorously pursue your case to get the full compensation you and your family deserve. Contact us by phone at (757) 552-6055 or by using our online contact form.
Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one because of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.