For many in St. Louis that have been involved in car accidents, their initial inclinations are not to seek legal action. However, as the expenses related to their accidents begin to mount (both from medical bills and auto repair costs), they often find that they have little choice but to pursue compensation. Yet many wonder exactly who might ultimately be liable if it is discovered that the driver who caused the accident was not driving their own vehicle at the time. The legal doctrine of negligent entrustment may allow responsibility to also be assigned to the vehicle owner.
Per Merriam-Webster, negligent entrustment occurs when the owner of a potentially dangerous instrument loans it to one who is too inexperienced to incompetent to use it safely. The philosophy behind this doctrine is to emphasize the importance of exercising sound judgment when loaning out a vehicle to others by assigning accountability to the owners for the actions of those who use them. However, the mere fact that a person who caused an accident was driving another’s vehicle at the time may not be enough to automatically apply negligent entrustment to an auto accident case.
Rather, a minimum standard must often be met in order for an accident victim to cite this legal principle. That standard has been set by local state Supreme Court rulings, which default to the definition of negligent entrustment defined by the Restatement (Second) of Torts. Here it states that the owner of the chattel (in this context, an automobile) must have known (or should have reasonably known) that a driver’s inexperience or reckless tendencies would present an unreasonable risk of harm to others. This effectively excludes the application of negligent entrustment in cases where a person was using another’s car without their permission.