Understanding “Negligent Entrustment” Claims In Personal Injury Lawsuits
When a negligent driver causes a car accident, the injured victims can seek monetary damages from said driver. In some cases, the victims may also have a personal injury claim against the owner of the vehicle, if they are a different person from the driver. Florida recognizes a cause of action for negligent entrustment of a vehicle from the owner to a driver.
To give a simple example of negligent entrustment, say Mary gives the keys to her car to John. At the time, John is visibly intoxicated. Mary is aware of this fact yet still lets him use her car. John subsequently causes a car accident that injures someone else. In this scenario, the victim would have a viable negligent entrustment case against Mary, even if she was not in the car at the time of the accident.
Judge Finds Insufficient Evidence that Boat Owner Gave Permission to Operator Prior to Accident
A successful negligent entrustment claim, however, requires proof that the owner actually “entrusted” their vehicle to the reckless driver in the first place. To put it in legal terms, the plaintiff needs to prove the owner actually gave the defendant permission to use their car. Returning to our hypothetical, if John took Mary’s keys when she was not paying attention and proceeded to cause an accident with her car, Mary would not be responsible as she never gave John permission.
Establishing entrustment is often trickier than you might think. Take this recent decision from a federal judge here in Florida, Stolinas v. Palmer. This case actually involves a boat accident, but the legal principles are the same as with car accidents. There were three principal actors in this case, men with the last names of Palmer, Solinas, and Derwin.
Palmer owned the boat. One day, Derwin and Stolinas took the boat out with a fourth person. Palmer was not present. While Derwin operated the boat, he made a “sudden and unexpected turn that caused Stolinas” to fall overboard, according to court records. The fall severely injured Stolinas. Police subsequently charged Derwin with stealing the boat. Dewrwin subsequently committed suicide before the criminal trial.
Meanwhile, Stolinas sued Palmer under a theory of negligent entrustment. He alleged that Palmer had actually given Derwin permission to take the boat out that day. Palmer denied this. An eyewitness testified he also heard Palmer expressly refuse Derwin permission to take the boat the day before the accident. And as noted above, the police charged Derwin with theft at Palmer’s urging. Stolinas and the other passenger on the boat that day, however, insisted they believed that Derwin had Palmer’s permission.
The judge said that was insufficient. The problem was that any statements the now-deceased Derwin made to Stolinas or anyone else was inadmissible hearsay, since Palmer could no longer cross-examine him. This left only Palmer’s statements that he denied Derwin permission. As such, Stolinas could not establish a negligent entrustment claim against Palmer.
Speak with a Florida Accident Lawyer Today
In any given accident, there may be more parties legally responsible than just the driver. That is why it is critical to work with an experienced Boca Raton personal injury attorney who can fully investigate the circumstances surrounding your accident and give you timely legal advice. Contact the Leifer Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation.