Motor Vehicle Collisions and Vicarious Liability: The Family Purpose Doctrine and Negligent Entrustment (Part 2)

Part one of this two-part blog explored the requirements for imposing liability under the Family Purpose Doctrine. This blog will look at a closely related concept known as the Negligent Entrustment Theory.

What is Negligent Entrustment?

Like the Family Purpose Doctrine, the Negligent Entrustment Theory is used to impose liability on a vehicle owner for injuries caused by another person’s negligent driving. The difference, however, is that direct liability, as opposed to vicarious liability, is being imposed. Ridgeway v. Whisman, 210 Ga. App. 169 (1993).  This difference is important because although the negligence of the at-fault driver must be shown, it is not necessary that the driver be a party to the case.

Negligent Entrustment in Application

The Negligent Entrustment Theory is complex and nuanced. Proper application of the theory requires a thorough understanding of the facts of the case, and many factors must be considered.

First, while the vehicle owner is often the person who negligently entrusts the vehicle, it is not a requirement that the entruster actually own the vehicle. McManus v. Taylor, 326 Ga. App. 477 (2014).  The entruster only needs to have control over the use of the vehicle. Id.

Second, if a vehicle is driven without the owner’s permission, the theory is not applicable because the owner has not entrusted the vehicle to the driver. Id. Even if permission is given, the permission can be limited, and the owner is not liable if the driver exceeds the scope of the permission. See Willis v. Allen, 188 Ga. App. 390 (1988).

Third, if the allegation is that the driver of the vehicle was incompetent to drive because of intoxication, it must be shown that the vehicle owner had actual knowledge that the driver was incompetent to operate the vehicle because of the intoxication at the time vehicle was entrusted. Greene v. Jenkins, 224 Ga. App. 640 (1997).  Merely showing that the driver had been drinking prior to driving without providing evidence that it rendered him incompetent to drive is insufficient. Id.

Fourth, if the allegation is that the driver is habitually reckless, evidence must be presented that the vehicle owner had actual knowledge of the “driver’s pattern of reckless driving or facts from which such knowledge could reasonably be inferred.” Danforth v. Bulman, 276 Ga. App. 732 (2005).  It is not enough to show only that the driver had habits that could lead to reckless driving. For example, it has been held that a person who drank a pint of whiskey every night was not necessarily likely to drive while intoxicated. Clarke v. Cox, 197 Ga. App. 83 (1990).

The attorneys at Butler Tobin have handled many motor vehicle collision cases involving people who were not competent to drive yet drove anyway.

Your life should never be placed in danger by someone who should not be driving. If you have been injured in a motor vehicle collision, contact our attorneys for a free consultation. Or, call us at (404) JUSTICE = (404) 587-8423.

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