A business owner gives its employees keys to the company cars. A parent gives his teen the keys to the family sedan. These people may not think that these decisions could lead to legal trouble – but they could. In Alabama, the doctrine of negligent entrustment could make an owner responsible for the things another driver does in your car.
Negligent entrustment can be a helpful doctrine for car accident victims. This blog will explain negligent entrustment in Alabama and how it applies in car accidents.
Negligence: What is it?
Before explaining negligent entrustment, let’s review how negligence works in a normal personal injury car accident case.
In the standard car accident case, the injured person (the plaintiff) must prove four things:
1) the person who hit them (the defendant) had a legal duty to do something;
2) the defendant did not comply with the legal duty;
3) the plaintiff suffered harm;
4) the defendant’s failure to follow the law was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.
So, assume that Driver A runs a red light and hits Driver B. The crash breaks Driver B’s leg. Here, it would be easy for Driver B to prove that Driver A had a duty to stop at the red light and that the failure resulted in the broken leg.
Negligent Entrustment in Alabama: How it Works
As you can tell by the name, negligent entrustment shares some similarities with standard negligence. But while standard negligence looks at the drivers involved in the accident negligent entrustment focuses on the person who gave the negligent driver the keys.
In a 2005 case, the Alabama Supreme Court said that to prove negligent entrustment in Alabama, the plaintiff must show that the car owner:
• entrusted the vehicle to the borrower;
• entrusted the vehicle to a borrower who was incompetent; and
• knew that the borrower was incompetent.
The plaintiff must also show that she suffered injuries and that the owner’s actions were the proximate cause of those injuries.
In Alabama, entrustment can occur in several ways. A person can directly entrust someone with the car, such as by giving them the keys. However, entrustment also occurs when an owner who has reason to believe that an incompetent driver might take the car fails to secure the car and keys.
As far as “incompetent,” you might think that it means unable to drive. But in this context, courts say that the incompetence of a driver is measured by the driver’s demonstrated ability (or inability) to safely drive a vehicle.
Proximate cause sounds fancy, but it’s actually quite simple. It just means that the law can draw a fairly straight line from the defendant’s actions to the other person’s injuries.
Now, returning to our prior example, let’s assume again that Driver A crashes into Driver B and breaks Driver B’s leg. If Owner gave Driver A the car keys with the knowledge that Driver A could not drive safely, Owner likely engaged in negligent entrustment.
Why Negligent Entrustment is Useful
Negligent entrustment is a potentially helpful doctrine for many plaintiffs. In our example with Driver A and Driver B, Driver B could potentially recover damages from both Driver A and the Owner. In short, negligent entrustment opens an additional pathway for recovery.
Negligent Entrustment may be particularly useful in certain circumstances. For example, in a trucking accident, there might be a claim for negligent entrustment if there is evidence that the trucking company knew that the driver could not drive safely (i.e., he was intoxicated) but gave him the keys anyway. The same logic would apply in cases where a company gives an incompetent employee the keys to a company car.
Negligent entrustment can also occur when a parent allows a teen driver to drive. Because of their inexperience, teen drivers are already more likely to have car accidents. However, if a parent knows that their teen is not just inexperienced but incompetent, handing over the keys could lead to a claim of negligent entrustment.
Finally, and though this should go without saying, giving your car keys to a person who is clearly intoxicated could also be a form of negligent entrustment.
Negligent Entrustment in Alabama: Claims and Defenses
If you are in a car crash and learn that someone else gave the driver permission to use the vehicle, you may have a claim for negligent entrustment. As the plaintiff, the court would require you to show facts that prove that the owner knowingly gave the car keys to an incompetent driver and that that decision caused your injuries. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you get the information you need.
However, the owner and driver may have defenses. The owner may claim that the driver was not incompetent or that they did not know about the incompetence. The owner may also claim that the driver took the car without permission. For example, a parent could claim that they locked the keys away and the teenager broke the lock to get the keys.
In Alabama, both the driver and the owner can raise the contributory negligence defense. Contributory negligence means that a person who contributed to their own injuries in any way cannot recover damages. However, a skill personal injury attorney can help you address this issue.
More Questions about Negligent Entrustment in Alabama?
Hopefully, this article has helped you better understand negligent entrustment. If you’ve been injured in a trucking accident or hurt in any type of accident, contact Collins Law, LLC. Our firm fights for the rights of injured persons throughout Alabama. If you need help with a personal injury claim, call (205) 881-0403 or click here to schedule a free consultation.