You May Be Entitled to Sue the Car Owner in an Accident

July 17, 2018

Car accident litigation can vary quite a bit from case-to-case, particularly if the owner of the vehicle is not the same as the negligent driver that caused your injuries — in Pennsylvania, this gives you a potential right of action against the car owner for damages pursuant to negligent entrustment.

Injured in a car accident due to another’s fault?  Pennsylvania law may entitle you to significant damages.  Speak to an experienced Allentown car accident lawyer for further guidance.

Negligent entrustment is plaintiff-friendly in the sense that it gives the injured plaintiff access to another defendant’s pockets, so to speak — for example, if you are suing the defendant-driver, but the driver does not have sufficient insurance coverage to account for your losses, then having access to the “pockets” of the vehicle owner will ensure that you can obtain some additional compensation.

What is Negligent Entrustment?

Negligent entrustment is not the same as the claim you would otherwise bring against the negligent driver — it is a separate and independent claim brought against the owner of the vehicle for negligently permitting the driver to operate the vehicle, thus exposing others to an unreasonable risk of injury.

For example, if you are injured by a drunk driver, then you may want to investigate the ownership of the car involved.  If the car was owned by their sibling, who — after further investigation — is found to have permitted the driver to operate the vehicle despite knowing that the driver was intoxicated, then you would likely have an actionable negligent entrustment claim.

Pennsylvania law describes the negligent entrustment cause of action as follows:

  1. The driver acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully, causing the plaintiff to suffer injuries;
  2. The defendant-owner knew or should have known about the driver’s incompetence to drive; and
  3. The defendant-owner still permitted the driver to operate the vehicle.

Simple, right?  In reality, however, there are a number of issues that are commonly raised by defendants in negligent entrustment litigation to avoid or minimize their liability.  Let’s take a quick look.

Liability Concerns in Negligent Entrustment Litigation

Negligent entrustment claims often take vehicle owners by surprise — those unfamiliar with injury litigation may not expect to be held liable for the injuries directly caused by another person.  Still, negligent entrustment liability is fairly straightforward (on the surface).  If the defendant knew about the incompetence of the driver, then granting permission to the driver is tantamount to negligence — they are contributing to whatever injuries arise as a consequence of such vehicle operation.

Defendants have various arguments they can utilize, however.  Consider the following arguments.

Driver Was Competent

Whether a driver was physically or mentally competent to drive depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • Age
  • Licensure
  • Physical/mental illness
  • Intoxication
  • History of reckless driving
  • History of substance abuse
  • And more

For example, if the defendant knows that the driver at-issue abuses alcohol and has a history of drunk driving violations, then giving the driver permission to operate their vehicle would likely constitute negligent entrustment — the reckless history of the driver may be enough to determine incompetence.

No Knowledge of Incompetence

Defendant vehicle owners may not escape liability for having no actual knowledge of the driver’s incompetence.  Only if the vehicle owner can show that they did not know, and that they need not have reasonably known about the driver’s incompetence, can they escape liability.

Whether the owner should have reasonably known — perhaps by asking about the driving record of the negligent driver — is a factual question that depends largely on the circumstances.

Permission Not Clear

Permission must be granted.  If you are hit by a reckless driver, for example, you cannot hold the owner liable if the car was stolen.  The owner is only liable for “entrusting” their vehicle to the negligent driver.

Schedule a Free Consultation With an Experienced Allentown Car Accident Lawyer

Here at Drake, Hileman & Davis, PC, our Pennsylvania attorneys have over three decades of experience representing injured plaintiffs in a variety of lawsuits, including car accident litigation that involves negligent entrustment issues.  We are a client-centered firm.  From the very beginning of the litigation process, we work closely with clients to ensure that they are kept informed of developments in their case, and we make ourselves available 24/7 to answer any questions or concerns they may have about the lawsuit.  We believe that this approach has been the key to our success — over the years, we have obtained many favorable verdicts and settlements on behalf of our injured clients.

If you have suffered injuries in a car accident, and the owner of the car negligently entrusted the vehicle to the driver that caused you injuries, you’ll want to speak to a qualified attorney for assistance on how best to proceed with litigation.  Call (610) 433-3910 or submit an online case evaluation form to get connected to an experienced Allentown car accident lawyer.  Consultation is free and confidential.