Negligent Entrustment Laws

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 What Is Negligence?

Negligence is the legal theory that allows injured people to recover for the carelessness of others. A person is negligent if they were careless given the circumstances of the situation.

Negligence has four elements that must be shown in order to recover for injuries:

  1. Duty: A duty is the responsibility that one person owes to another. Generally speaking, people going about their business owe a duty of reasonable care to each other. Reasonable care is the level of care that an ordinary and prudent person would use in the same situation;
  2. Breach: Breach occurs when a person’s care falls below the level that is required by their duty;
  3. Causation: The breach of a duty must be the cause of injury. The legal test for causation states that ‘but for’ one party’s actions, the injury would not have occurred; and
  4. Damages: There must be some sort of harm that occurred, such as property damage, emotional stress, and lost wages.

All of the above must be present in order to successfully determine that the other party was negligent. If one of the above cannot be proven, negligence cannot be established. The obvious example of negligence is personal injury, such as a vehicle collision. However, negligence is a flexible idea that can appear in many contexts.

Negligence can occur in the work setting, such as how an employer could be negligent by not giving an employee proper safety equipment which would have prevented an injury. Businesses can also act negligently by making faulty goods that cause injury. Negligently making or designing goods can also result in a lawsuit.

What Is Negligent Entrustment?

A lawsuit for negligent entrustment arises when the owner of a motor vehicle entrusts it to someone whom the owner knows to be incapable of using the vehicle properly; and, a third party is injured. In a legal context, “entrust” is defined as giving something that you own to another person, for a temporary amount of time.

All companies are responsible for hiring qualified employees. As such, if a company has no formal hiring policy, the legal theory of negligent entrustment suggests that the company could be exposed to liability for the acts of its employees.

In an employment context, negligent entrustment refers to when an employer left a dangerous item such as a gun or vehicle with an employee whom the employer knows, or should know, is likely to use it in an unreasonably risky way.

Negligent entrustment most commonly arises in business situations in which:

  • An employer carelessly allowed or entrusted an employee to use an item that could cause harm;
  • The employer knew or should have known of the incompetence of the employee in terms of the item that they were entrusted with; and
  • The incompetence of the employee was a substantial factor in causing the injury.

According to negligent entrustment laws, an employer may be liable for damages caused by an incompetent employee. This is because, as was previously mentioned, an employer has a duty to hire competent and qualified employees to represent the company.

Punitive damages may be awarded if negligent entrustment is proven, which are not commonly covered by insurance policies. Additionally, some states do not allow for punitive damage coverage. What this means is that even if punitive damages are covered, the judgment may exceed policy limits.

If an employee drives a vehicle while they are working, the employer may be at risk for a negligent entrustment charge if:

  • The driver is ruled to be incompetent;
  • The employer knew or should have known of this incompetence;
  • The employer entrusted the vehicle to the driver within the scope of their employment; and
  • The driver was negligent and caused the accident. However, some states do not require negligence by the driver.

In order to avoid or reduce the risk of negligent entrustment, employers must pay particular attention to the qualifications of their employees. The following are some examples of who must be especially careful for employers to avoid liability for negligent entrustment:

  • Unpaid or volunteer workers;
  • Nursing home personnel;
  • Childcare personnel;
  • Employees exposed to children;
  • Delivery personnel;
  • Machine operators;
  • Out-of-office service and repair personnel;
  • Private residence installation personnel;
  • Sales personnel;
  • Security personnel;
  • Nonprofit organization personnel;
  • Campus organization personnel;
  • Personnel who carry a firearm; and
  • Academic or community service organizations.

What Are Negligent Entrustment Laws?

Negligent entrustment laws are a body of laws governing personal injury, negligence, and tort laws. They cover injuries resulting from when an employer places a dangerous item or instrument in the care of an employee, whose conduct and handling of the item causes injury to another party.

The most common example of a negligent entrustment violation would be when a supervisor allows an employee to drive the company car. If a third party is injured by the employee driving the car, it may be possible to file a negligent entrustment lawsuit. It will be necessary to prove that the employer should not have entrusted the employee with the property, or had reason to know that they should not have granted the employee access to the property.

Negligent entrustment may also occur in other relationships, such as a principal-agent relationship. Additionally, negligent entrustment laws overlap with other types of laws such as vicarious liability laws, respondeat superior concepts, and some criminal law.

Is Negligent Entrustment The Same As Vicarious Liability?

Vicarious liability is more associated with the employer authorizing the employee to perform certain actions, which may cause harm to a third party. In vicarious liability, the focus is more on the conduct of the employee while they are doing work “on the clock,” as well as the employer’s direct authorization of the worker’s tasks.

Alternatively, negligent entrustment is more associated with the employer allowing the employee to use property or equipment that they should not be handling. Negligent entrustment generally results when the employer makes a wrong decision about the:

  • Capabilities;
  • Abilities;
  • Skills;
  • Capacities; and/or
  • Certification of a worker.

Some examples of negligent entrustment include when the employer negligently lets the worker use:

  • A vehicle, such as a company car, boat, bicycle, motorcycle, or aircraft;
  • A dangerous or deadly weapon, like a handgun, security gun, taser, etc.; and
  • Heavy equipment, such as a crane or forklift-like device.

These examples are especially easy to prove if the employee did not have the proper training, licensing, certification, and/or experience to use the items. Additionally, even if the employee did have the proper licensing, negligent entrustment can be found if the employee had a reputation of handling such property in a dangerous way.

It is generally the employer who is being held responsible for negligent entrustment, because they are the actor who is “entrusting” the worker with the property or item. It must be shown that the employer or supervisor breached their duty of care to the third party by allowing the employee to handle the equipment.

In some cases, the employee can also be held liable for the victim’s injuries, especially if the employee knew that they were not qualified to take on the task or equipment, yet proceeded to do so anyway. Both the employer and the worker can be held liable for negligent entrustment under joint liability principles.

Remedies for negligent entrustment generally involve a damages award paid from the defendant to the victim, in order to reimburse them for losses caused by the injury.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Negligent Entrustment Laws?

Filing a negligent entrustment lawsuit may be necessary if you have been injured through the negligence of an employee or their employer.

You should hire a personal injury attorney who can help you understand your legal rights and options. Additionally, an experienced personal injury attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.

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