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Do Parents Understand the Risk of Negligent Entrustment?

On the morning of January 3, 2009, a man drove into the oncoming lane of traffic, struck a parked car and rolled end-over-end into the bus stop where a 13-year-old girl, her 15-year-old sister and their father waited.

Both girls suffered injuries. The younger girl suffered extensive scarring across her face and body, substantial loss to her sense of smell, and permanent damage from a traumatic brain injury that dramatically diminishes her ability to learn.

When the driver was arrested four hours later, he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.17 percent, more than twice the legal limit for driving.

The lawsuit claimed "negligent entrustment" on the part of the driver's parents. Attorneys for the two girls claimed the parents of the man should have known that providing their son with a truck had dangerous and foreseeable consequences given his history of drug and alcohol use and the three DUI convictions on his record.

The parents of the driver claim that their son had not been drinking when he left their house minutes before the accident. They said they believed his drinking days were over. However, the driver admitted that he frequently made liquor store purchases using a debit card from a joint checking account he shared with his parents.

Court documents revealed that the driver's parents gave him the title to the pickup even after their son's provisional driver's license had been suspended twice because of failure to complete or comply with terms of a DUI program. And still, the parents continued to pay insurance premiums despite the continuing problems their son had maintaining a valid license. Mary Callahan, "Parents to pay $1.2 million in son's Santa Rosa DUI crash," www.pressdemocrat.com (May 9, 2012).

Commentary and Checklist

Leaving or entrusting something, such as an automobile or firearm, with another whom the lender knows or should know could use the object to harm others, provides a basis for a negligent entrustment claim.

Negligent entrustment claims often arise when a known incompetent driver negligently causes injury while driving an automobile owned by someone else. The injured party may have a claim for the tort of negligent entrustment if he or she can show the owner entrusted the vehicle to the driver and the owner knew or should have known that the driver was unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless.

Under this theory of recovery, the owner of the vehicle may be liable for the full damages caused by the driver and even punitive damages if the owner acted recklessly in entrusting the vehicle to the driver. Although the driver in this case is an adult, the principle also applies to parents and caregivers of teens that drive. Entrusting automobiles to teens and paying for their insurance, gas, and alcohol creates a risk for parents and caregivers, especially if the driver has proven to be unsafe.

About one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence of alcohol are repeat offenders.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, here are some interesting statistics about teens that drink:
  • Young people are more susceptible to alcohol-induced impairment of their driving skills. Drinking drivers aged 16 to 20 are twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash as drinking drivers who are 21 or older.
  • Car crashes are the leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 20. About 1,900 people under 21 die every year from car crashes involving underage drinking.
  • Teens drink in excess. More than 7 percent of eighth graders, 16 percent of sophomores, and 23 percent of seniors report recent binge drinking.
  • The majority of current teen drinkers got drunk in the previous month. That includes 50 percent of the high school sophomores who drink and 65 percent of the high school seniors who drink.
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