Yes.  Although a car rental agency cannot be liable for personal injuries just because it owns the car, they can be held liable on the basis of negligent entrustment.  In other words, if the rental agency rents a car to person who they know is unfit to drive a vehicle, they can be liable for any injuries caused by that driver.

What Types of Actions Constitute Negligent Entrustment?

Renting a car to the following individuals can be considered negligent entrustment:

  • Visibly intoxicated persons or persons who are likely to drink
  • Underage minors
  • Persons with records showing a trend of reckless, unskilled, or careless driving
  • Unlicensed drivers
  • Persons who show intent to use the car for criminal activity
  • Previous renters with whom the rental agency has had bad experiences with

It is also important to note that in some courts, renting to an unlicensed driver is considered “negligence per se.”  This means that if a car is rented to an unlicensed driver, the rental agency is automatically considered negligent, regardless of how safe the driver appears to be.

What Else Must Be Shown to Hold a Rental Agency Liable for Negligent Entrustment?

In addition to showing that the car rental agency was negligent, it must also be shown that the agency’s negligence caused the injury. 

For example, suppose agency X rents a car to under aged Y, who in the course of driving, crashes into Z at a stoplight.  Z may be able to sue X for any injuries, if Z can show that the crash happened because Y was too young to understand what “yield on left turn” meant.  In this case, the crash occurred because X rented a car to an inexperienced driver.

What if Y had been driving properly and the crash occurred because Z was running a red light?  In this case, Z’s bad judgment caused the crash, not X’s decision to rent a car to under aged Y.  Although X was still negligent in renting a car to Y, this decision had no effect on Z’s haphazard driving.

How Can a Lawyer Help Me?

If you injured in a car crash involving a rental car, you should contact a personal injury attorney to find out if you have a claim against any rental agencies.  A lawyer can help determine whether negligent entrustment is a viable claim in your case, and may even be able to reach a quick settlement with the rental agency.