When one experiences a car accident in Massachusetts, their first thoughts typically center on recovery from their injuries and/or repairing their vehicles. Taking legal action against those responsible for their accidents often only occurs when one encounters difficulties in receiving compensation for their accident expenses.
Yet such action becomes increasingly complicated if and when one discovers that the driver that caused their collision was not in their own vehicle. While a number of reasons exist as to why one might use another’s car, restricted vehicle access due to incompetence or recklessness falls among the most common. When this occurs, accident victims might then inevitably ask whether the vehicle owner might share in the liability for the accident.
Negligent entrustment defined
Assigning liability in this manner is possible thanks to negligent entrustment. According to the International Risk Management Institute, Inc., this includes the failure to exercise the appropriate degree of care in loaning out their personal vehicles, aircraft or watercraft. In this particular context, the “appropriate degree of care” likely includes understanding (or investigating) the borrower’s driving history to see if they demonstrate consistent negligence or poor performance behind the wheel.
Vicarious liability in car accidents
This point of the appropriate degree of care is pivotal in one citing negligent entrustment in their car accident case. Incidences where drivers take a vehicle without the owner’s permission thus likely fall outside the application of this principle. Indeed, the state’s own standard for applying negligent entrustment implies this. No statute exists outlining how negligent entrustment applies to car accidents; rather, state court rulings set the standard. The most recent case in which a court ruled on this (from 2005) states that “..the entrustor, to be liable, must have had actual knowledge of the unfitness of the entrustee (as contrasted with mere reason to know that the entrustee was unfit or incompetent).”