The Negligent Entrustment Theory
When there is a trucking accident, our natural first impression is to sue the trucker or the trucking company under standard negligence grounds. And of course, this is a major avenue for liability.
But many of these cases also involve an issue known as negligent entrustment.
Negligent entrustment is a cause of action where a party is sued for entrusting someone with a car or truck when it should have been apparent that person should not have been trusted. Most commonly, this is used when a parent trusts a teenager to drive a vehicle, or someone allows an impaired person to use their car, and an accident results.
It’s somewhat different than vicarious liability. With vicarious liability, one is automatically liable for the actions of another (such as an employer for an employee). But negligent entrustment isn’t “automatic.” It requires separate proof that it was negligent to allow someone to use a vehicle.
In the trucking context, employers don’t have to have a crystal ball to see if their employee drivers will have an accident or not. But they do have an obligation to ensure that their employees are safe and qualified drivers to the best they can before hiring. This may include using background and criminal checks.
Recent Case Uses Negligent Entrustment Theory
A recent case has used the entrustment theory to find liability against a trucking company. An innocent bicyclist was struck by a commercial truck. The bicyclist died from his injuries. The victim’s estate was awarded over $2 million in compensation.
Using the entrustment theory here had a benefit for the plaintiff: it allowed the plaintiff to use as evidence the driver’s driving record. Ordinarily those records are inadmissible. But with the negligent entrustment theory, driving records may be probative as to whether the employer knew or should have known the driver should not have been hired. In other words, the theory allows very persuasive evidence–a bad driving record–to be considered by a jury when it ordinarily would not have been.
The court also allowed the plaintiff to cite from state safety manuals to the jury. Normally, such manuals can’t be used to impeach an expert witness, but the court found there was nothing preventing such standards and manuals from being used generally, such as when questioning a lay witness, or in an opening or closing statement.
The manuals were used to demonstrate a standard of care that must be followed, and that the defendant violated it. A jury may not know what kind of standard of care must be used for a trucker, or for a trucking company in hiring an employee. Allowing the usage of government and safety manuals is a huge asset to a plaintiff trying to provide the standard to a jury.
If you’ve suffered an injury of any severity in Maryland, you want attorneys that understand every possible theory of liability. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights.