Brief Fact Summary.
Vince (Plaintiff) was injured in a car accident with Wilson’s (Defendant) grand-nephew after she gave him money to buy a car from Ace Auto Sales, owned by Gardner, even though Gardner and Defendant knew the grand-nephew was unlicensed, had failed his driving test several times, and abused alcohol.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A person who assists an incompetent driver to purchase a vehicle is liable for negligent entrustment.
Defendant’s grand-nephew did not have a driver’s license, had failed his driving test several times, and had an alcohol abuse problem. Despite these facts, Defendant gave him money to buy a car. He purchased the car from Ace Auto Sales, which was owned by Gardner, who knew the purchaser was unlicensed and had an alcohol abuse problem. The grand-nephew was in a car accident with Plaintiff. Plaintiff sued Defendant, Ace Auto Sales, and Gardner for negligent entrustment. The trial court directed verdicts in favor of Ace Auto Sales and Gardner, but allowed the claim against Defendant to go to the jury. The jury found for Plaintiff, and Plaintiff and Defendant cross-appealed.
Is a person who assists an incompetent driver to purchase a vehicle liable for negligent entrustment?
(Mahady, J.) Yes. A person who assists an incompetent driver to purchase a vehicle is liable for negligent entrustment. When a person provides an instrumentality to another, knowing that the other person is not competent to use that instrumentality, he is liable to third parties who are injured by the incompetent use of the instrumentality. The means of the assistance is not important, it is the enabling itself that causes liability. Here, both Defendant and Gardner assisted the grand-nephew in purchasing a car, knowing he was unqualified to drive it. As a result, both may be liable to Plaintiff for his injuries. Affirmed as to Defendant, reversed as to Ace and Gardner, and remanded.
There are many forms of negligent entrustment, although the most recognizable is a friend or relative who loans a car to an intoxicated driver. Occasionally, unintentional negligent entrustment, such as when the keys to a car are left in the ignition and the car is taken without permission, results in liability as well.