We are often asked whether a parent or an owner of a vehicle is responsible for the conduct of a child or another person using a vehicle with permission. In most instances, neither a parent of a young driver, nor the owner of the vehicle, are liable for injuries caused by another person using their vehicle. Although a person or a business can be responsible for the actions of their agents or employees, simply being the parent of a driver or the owner of a vehicle does not subject a person to claims for injuries or other damages.
In spite of this general rule, a parent of a driver or an owner of a vehicle can be held liable for injuries, if there is evidence that they negligently entrusted the vehicle to the driver. Under Alabama law, the essential elements of an action for negligent entrustment are (1) an entrustment; (2) to an incompetent; (3) with knowledge that he is incompetent; (4) proximate cause; and (5) damages. Edwards v. Valentine, 926 So. 2d. 315 (Ala. 2005).
Entrustment of a vehicle can include expressly loaning a vehicle on a specific occasion, continuously allowing consent to use a vehicle, or merely leaving a vehicle available for use. In the event where a vehicle is left for use, a parent or an owner may be responsible even when he or she did not provide permission to use the vehicle when there is evidence that the person who was driving the vehicle was likely to use it without authorization and that the parent or owner failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent such unauthorized use.
In order for a parent or owner to be responsible for negligent entrustment, there must be evidence that the driver of the vehicle was “incompetent” to drive safely. The term “incompetent” in this context means that the person is someone that is not “a reasonably safe person” or someone that is likely to use the vehicle dangerously. This may be someone who does not have the proper training or experience with a particular type of vehicle. Incompetence may also be demonstrated by showing specific acts such as previous acts of negligent or reckless driving, previous wrecks or instances of driving while intoxicated. Cases involving drunk driving are especially open to claims of negligent entrustment, because the Alabama Supreme Court has concluded “that one who is an habitual drunkard is an incompetent driver.” McGowin v. Howard, 251 Ala. 204, 208, 36 So. 2d 323, 325 (1948).
To prevail in a case for negligent entrustment, it is also necessary to show that the parent or owner knew or should have known that the driver of the vehicle was incompetent. The court will look at the facts of the situation and hold the parent or owner responsible for the information that a reasonable person should have known under the circumstances. It is not necessary to prove that the parent or owner had actual knowledge of any specific facts. Instead, it is only necessary to prove that a reasonable person would be aware the driver was not a reasonably safe person.
Our firm has successfully prosecuted negligent entrustment cases in situations where a parent or grandparent allowed a teenage driver to use a vehicle even though they knew the young driver lacked the maturity to operate the vehicle safely, in situations where a friend or relative allowed someone to borrow their vehicle even though they knew the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and in situations where the owner allowed someone to drive a vehicle even though they knew the driver had a history of reckless conduct, such as speeding and racing. If you or a loved one has been injured by a driver who was negligently entrusted with an automobile, we can help.