Car, truck, or motorcycle owners who allow inexperienced, reckless, or incompetent drivers to use their vehicle face liability. Vehicle owners are responsible for the actions of those they entrust with their vehicle under California’s negligent entrustment law.
Negligent entrustment cases require the lawyer for the plaintiff to provide evidence in five basic areas:
- The driver demonstrated negligence in the operation of the vehicle
- The defendant owns the vehicle. In some unusual cases, the defendant could simply possess the vehicle with the permission of the owner, but the owner lacks liability.
- The defendant should have known, or did know, the driver lacked the experience or competence to drive the vehicle.
- The defendant allowed the unfit driver to utilize the vehicle.
- The lack of driver competence or ﬁtness to drive substantially factored in causing the plaintiff’s harm.
Allowing a minor who does not have a drivers’ license to operate a motor vehicle is a crime under California Penal Code 193.8(a). An adult also shall not give an intoxicated minor the opportunity to drive a motor vehicle, whether or not the adult is the registered owner.
Negligence as Defined in California law
The first step to identifying liability for negligent entrustment requires the determination of negligence. In California, persons deemed negligent owe a duty of care but fail to act with reason when entrusting their vehicle to an individual.
Duty of Care for Negligent Entrustment Cases
The California Vehicle Code outlines California’s duty of care in negligent entrustment cases in several different sections. Essentially, this covers the owner or anyone who manages the use of motor vehicles. They cannot let someone else drive the vehicle if they know that the person does not have a license or is otherwise incompetent.
The owner of the vehicle is responsible for the negligence of the entrusted driver when the owner knows the driver to be incompetent. Incompetence comes in many forms:
- No California driver’s license
- Suspended or revoked license
- Medical conditions that make it dangerous to drive. (i.e. vision problems, epilepsy, etc.)
The applicable California Vehicle Code sections 14606(a), 14607, 14608(a) cover these negligent situations:
- California Vehicle Code 14606(a): A person shall not employ, hire, knowingly permit, or authorize any person to drive a motor vehicle owned by him or her or under his or her control upon the highways unless that person is licensed for the appropriate class of vehicle to be driven.
- California Vehicle Code 14607: No person shall cause or knowingly permit his child, ward, or employee under the age of 18 years to drive a motor vehicle upon the highways unless such child, ward, or employee is then licensed under this code.
- California Vehicle Code 14608(a). A person shall not rent a motor vehicle to another person unless both of the following requirements have been met:
- The person to whom the vehicle is rented is licensed under this code or is a non-resident who is licensed under the laws of the state or country of his or her residence.
- The person renting to another person has inspected the driver’s license of the person to whom the vehicle is to be rented and compared either the signature thereon with that of the person to whom the vehicle is to be rented or the photograph thereon with the person to whom the vehicle is to be rented.
Negligent Entrustment Defense Options in California
Four potential civil liability defense options for negligent entrustment exist.
- The owner had no knowledge of the incapacity of the entrusted driver.
- The entrusted driver did not cause the accident.
- The injuries of the plaintiff have a cause other than from the accident or the actions of the driver.
- A reasonable person would entrust the vehicle under similar circumstances.
California’s negligent entrustment law protects victims of car accidents due to incompetence and unfit drivers, even when the vehicle is owned by someone else.