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What Is Negligent Entrustment?

If a person is injured by a drunk driver, who is liable? Obviously, the person driving drunk could be sued if he negligently caused an accident that resulted in Plaintiff’s injuries. However, the person or establishment that gave the driver the alcohol in the first place could also be held responsible. If the drunk driver was noticeably intoxicated and the bar continued to sell him alcohol, the injured person may have a claim. The rule is that one who sells intoxicating beverages for on-premises consumption is under a duty of care to third persons not to sell to noticeably intoxicated persons.

Further, if the car that the driver was operating is owned by another, the owner could be held liable for negligent entrustment. This is true even if the the driver is not drunk at the time he in entrusted with the car. The owner can still be liable if the owner knows that the driver had a history of drunk driving. Similarly, one who provides a car to a minor who is unfit to drive may also be liable if the minor causes an accident.

Most cases of negligent entrustment involve giving a dangerous thing to a person whom the entruster knows or should know would be apt to use it in a dangerous way – things like guns, or knives, or cars, or cigarette lighters. In negligent entrustment cases the owner provides a car to an already intoxicated person, with the resulting dangerous combination of driving and alcohol. In the alcohol dispenser cases, the order is reversed:  the owner of the alcohol sells it to someone who already has a car, but the resulting dangerous combination is the same.

In order to prove a claim for negligent entrustment, the Plaintiff must prove 1) the driver was negligent in operating the vehicle, 2) the defendant was the owner of the vehicle, 3) the defendant knew or should have known the driver was incompetent or unfit to drive the vehicle, 4) the defendant permitted the driver to use the vehicle and 5) the driver’s incompetence was a substantial factor in causing harm to the plaintiff.