In Alabama, those who are injured in a motor vehicle accident that was caused by the negligence or otherwise wrongful misconduct of the driver are entitled to sue and recover damages — and under certain circumstances, may have a legitimate right of action against the owner of the vehicle itself.
Oftentimes, motor vehicle accidents involve vehicles that are owned by different individuals than the drivers whose negligence actually caused the accident. If a vehicle owner is aware (or should be aware) of an unreasonable risk of injury posed by the driver, but permits use of the vehicle anyway, then such conduct could expose them to significant liability pursuant to the doctrine of negligent entrustment.
As the injured plaintiff, negligent entrustment represents an excellent opportunity for securing damages. In many cases, the driver may not have the necessary insurance coverage to payout your damages in full — by looping in other liable defendants, such as the vehicle owner, you can spread liability around, thus maximizing your chance of a successful and adequate recovery.
In Alabama, you can successfully hold the vehicle owner liable if you can prove that the following elements are true:
For example, imagine that you suffer injures in a motor vehicle collision. As it turns out, the defendant-driver was speeding and driving while distracted at the time of the accident. You later discover that the vehicle owner knew that the driver was incompetent to drive — the driver had multiple ticketing violations for their behavior, and had their license suspended. Under such circumstances, you could almost certainly bring a negligent entrustment action against the vehicle owner for damages.
There are a number of common defenses that you’re likely to encounter when bringing a negligent entrustment action against the owner of the vehicle at-issue. In order to succeed in securing compensation, you’ll have to undermine the arguments commonly trotted out by defendants.
Driver incompetence is fundamental to a negligent entrustment action. If you cannot show that the driver was incompetent, then you will be unable to successfully recover damages for negligent entrustment.
Whether the court deems a driver incompetent is a fact-based question that depends on the circumstances. For example, if a driver has one DUI over a ten-year period, then that may not be enough to deem them incompetent. On the other hand, if a driver has multiple DUIs, some of which are within the past year or two, then the court will likely find that they are incompetent.
Incompetence is also associated with barriers such as physical disability, mental disability, lack of proper licensing, and more.
Owners cannot be held liable for negligent entrustment if they did not know (or could not reasonably have known) about the driver’s incompetence. For example, if a family member of the vehicle owner has not yet received any tickets (or charges) for driving while texting, then the vehicle owner may be completely unaware of this risk factor. If the owner then entrusts the vehicle to their family member, they would likely avoid liability for negligent entrustment.
Whether the vehicle owner should reasonably know of the driver’s incompetence is another circumstantial issue — for example, if the driver has a history of alcoholism, then the vehicle owner must do their due diligence and determine whether the driver also has a history of DUIs before entrusting the vehicle.
In some cases, the vehicle owner may not have actually permitted the driver to use their vehicle. If the driver stole or otherwise took control of the vehicle without the consent of the owner, then the owner cannot be held liable for negligent entrustment.
Here at Cross & Smith, our attorneys have decades of experience litigating a range of personal injury claims, including those that involve motor vehicle accidents and negligent entrustment concerns. We are committed to the provision of comprehensive, personalized legal representation — from the very beginning of the litigation process, we work tirelessly to identify and gather the evidence necessary to support your claims. Our thoroughness gives us a substantial competitive advantage during early negotiations.
Our case results speak to the success of our unique, client-oriented approach to injury litigation. We have a long and consistent history of securing verdicts and settlements on behalf of our clients.
Call (205) 391-9557 or submit an online claim form to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a skilled Tuscaloosa injury attorney here at Cross & Smith. During your initial consultation, we will evaluate your claims, determine whether they are actionable, and help you understand how best to move forward.
"We realize there are many options for representation out there, and we talked with several of the "big names" before finding Cross and Smith. With the others, it felt like we were being bullied, in a tank with hungry sharks. We are still receiving junk mail from some. We are SO thankful we were referred to Justin Smith (Cross and Smith) for our accident claim. He and his team were absolutely amazing."