Motor vehicle accidents are commonly the result of avoidable circumstances. While distracted driving, driving under the influence, and other frequent causes of potentially life-altering collisions are universally understood to be dangerous and unlawful, negligent entrustment is a lesser-known danger against which legal action can be taken.

Mitigating potential disasters on the road and providing yourself with legal protections from negligent entrustment means first understanding what it is, when it applies to motor vehicle injury cases, and what is required to prove cases of negligent entrustment in court.

What Is Negligent Entrustment?

The legal term negligent entrustment1 describes any act of entrusting a dangerous article (such as a motor vehicle) to one who is too reckless or inexperienced to operate it safely. Simply put, if a vehicle owner loans their car to one who has proven themselves to be an unsafe or irresponsible driver, they can be held liable for whatever accidents the driver causes. Oregon state law does indeed recognize the validity of negligent entrustment, but only in certain situations. 

In cases of motor vehicle accidents, this risk may occur when an elderly parent or young child (the entrustee) causes injury or harm after being entrusted with another party’s vehicle. The vehicle owner is potentially liable2 for negligence, having provided another party with a “dangerous instrumentality,” or something that can cause harm in incompetent or incapable hands.

To apply negligent entrustment to your auto accident case, you need to prove that the following three elements were present: 

  1. That a vehicle was indeed entrusted to a driver under unreasonable circumstances
  2. That the driver did indeed cause you harm
  3. That the risk of harm that the driver presented was reasonably foreseeable

The main point underlying this principle is that the vehicle owner knowingly entrusts it to another. 

Prior knowledge of the entrusted party’s incompetence is critical to a plaintiff’s legal argument. If the driver that caused your accident did not have permission to use the vehicle, negligent entrustment would not apply to your case. Winning a case of negligent entrustment requires the injured or affected party (the plaintiff) to demonstrate3 the owner of the vehicle had actual knowledge of facts that showed the driver’s inability to safely operate the vehicle.

Also, it’s important to know that negligent entrustment isn’t strictly a motor vehicle term. It can apply to any circumstance where a party might be held liable for another’s carelessness, such as an employer who allowed or entrusted an employee to use a potentially harmful instrument.

Negligent Entrustment vs. Negligent Driving

Negligent entrustment also shouldn’t be confused with negligent driving. Negligent driving applies when a driver fails to exercise reasonable care when operating a vehicle — under negligent entrustment, a car owner who lends his car to someone who is under the influence or is otherwise driving irresponsibly may themselves be held responsible for an accident, even if they weren’t the one behind the wheel.

Is Negligent Entrustment the Same as Wrongful Entrustment?

The charge for negligent entrustment is sometimes termed “wrongful entrustment” in cases where one party knowingly entrusts a vehicle with a driver without a valid license or operating under the influence.

What Is the Graves Amendment?

You might read the description above and wonder how this law applies to accidents involving rented and commercial vehicles. The Graves Amendment, part of a bill passed in 2005, bars vicarious liability claims against rental car companies for any harm caused by drivers operating their vehicles unless the company’s own negligence can be demonstrably proven to have contributed to that harm in some way.

The Graves Amendment has been used to protect a wide range of commercial rental companies from liability claims, including commercial truckers.

How Does Negligent Entrustment Affect My Auto Injury Case?

Suffering injuries from a motor vehicle accident as a result of negligent driving or another party’s careless entrustment of a vehicle to one not equipped to drive safely is reason to seek punitive damages.

Negligent entrustment will impact your case if it can be proven that the car’s owner (entrustor) was fully aware that the entrusted driver was unfit to operate the vehicle, that the driver caused the accident in question, and that the plaintiff’s injuries were a direct result of the accident.

Contact Our Salem Personal Injury Attorneys for a Free Consultation

Every time you take to Salem’s roads and highways in your personal vehicle, there is a chance that you could be involved in an accident. Knowing this, you may tend to be somewhat understanding towards those who cause an accident that you are involved in. Yet, if and when it is discovered that the driver that hit you was in another’s vehicle, the issue of who should be liable comes into play. 

When legal action is required, that scenario can become even murkier. Many have come to us here at Swanson Lathen Prestwich PC in this situation wondering what sort of legal recourse might be available to them. If you share the same concern, you will be happy to know that assigning vicarious liability for your accident is indeed possible. 

Our experienced personal injury attorneys at Swanson Lathen Prestwich, PC, located in Salem, Oregon, specialize in representing injury cases just like yours. We can offer guidance through the tumultuous fallout of your accident to receive the maximum compensation to which you are due.

If you believe your case was one of negligent driving or entrustment, contact our legal team for a free consultation and let us help sort out the details of your specific circumstances to determine the value of your personal injury claim.

Legal resources: 

  1. Emerson v. Western Photomount Co., 267 Or. 562, 518 P.2d 171 (1974), https://cite.case.law/or/267/562/
  2. State of Oregon Transportation Compendium of Law, http://www.uslaw.org/files/public/OR_Transportation_09.pdf
  3. Mathews v. Federated Service Ins. Co., 122 Or. App. 124, 857 P.2d 852 (Or. Ct. App. 1993) https://casetext.com/case/mathews-v-federated-service-ins-co#p133