Should I Let My Friend Borrow My Car?

“Negligent entrustment” is a legal theory where the owner of a motor vehicle may be liable for property damage, wrongful death or personal injuries resulting from a car accident caused by someone to whom the owner entrusts their vehicle. The most common scenario is when the owner lends their car to a friend and the friend gets into an accident. Contrary to popular belief, the owner of the car is not automatically liable. Several things must be proven before liability attaches to the vehicle owner under the theory of negligent entrustment.

First, the owner must “entrust” the vehicle to the driver. If the car is stolen or the driver takes the vehicle without the owner’s permission, then the owner is not liable for negligent entrustment. Permission may be express or implied. If you lend your vehicle to a friend to run some errands, then the owner has given “express” permission. Another example may include a situation where the owner’s child routinely uses the vehicle to go to work or school without having to ask for permission each and every time. Under this situation, the owner may be deemed to have given “implied” permission for the child to use the vehicle.

Second, the owner must entrust the vehicle to someone who they knew (or should have known) is an incompetent or unlicensed driver. For example, if the owner lends their vehicle out to someone who appears to be intoxicated, then the owner may held liable for a resulting car accident. Additionally, if the driver has had many car accidents or traffic tickets in the recent past, then the driver may be considered incompetent. If the driver of the vehicle does not have a valid driver’s license, then the owner may also be liable for lending the vehicle to the unlicensed driver.

Third, the driver must be at fault in the car accident. That is, driver of the vehicle must have caused the accident before the owner may be held liable. If the driver is not at fault in the accident, then the owner would not be liable for negligent entrustment. If the driver is unlicensed, then the owner may also be liable even if the owner had no reason to believe that the driver was incompetent. However, the unlicensed driver would still have to be at-fault in the accident.

Just remember this simple rule: If you lend your vehicle to someone, and that person causes a car accident, you may be held liable if it can be shown that you knew (or should have known) that the driver was incompetent or unlicensed.