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Negligent Entrustment in Maryland

The doctrine of negligent entrustment has been part of the law of Maryland since 1934. Negligent entrustment is a cause of action personal injury lawyers in Maryland bring on behalf of injury victims. The theory behind negligent entrustment is that the entrustor is negligent because it negligently provided the entrustee party with a dangerous instrumentality that caused injury to a third person.

All of the negligent entrustment cases our lawyer see in Maryland involve motor vehicle accidents, mostly truck crashes.

Federal Law

Subpart C to Part 391 of Volume 49 of the CFRs is titled "Background of Character." This regulation sets forth the rules and regulations that must be followed by trucking companies before putting a truck driver behind the dangerous instrumentality that is a truck. These regulations place an affirmative duty on trucking companies. This is not "know or have reason to know." The trucking companies have to do their due diligence to find out whether a truck driver poses a risk.

Maryland Law

Negligent entrustment as a cause of action was first recognized by the Maryland Court of Appeals over 80 years ago in Rounds v. Phillips. Today, Maryland adopts the tort of negligent entrustment as expressed in the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 390, which provides:

One who supplies directly or through a third person a chattel for use of another whom the supplier knows or has reason to know to be likely because of his youth, inexperience or otherwise, to use it in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical harm to others whom the supplier should expect to share in or be endangered by its use, is subject to liability for physical harm ....

In Wright v. Neale, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, our intermediate court, set out the elements of negligent entrustment in Maryland:

  • (1) The making available to another a chattel which the supplier
  • (2) knows or should have known the user is likely to use in a manner involving risk of physical harm to others
  • (3) the supplier should expect to be endangered by its use.

The principal feature of this tort is the knowledge of the supplier concerning the likelihood of the person to whom he entrusts the chattel to use it in a dangerous manner.

While we keep talking about chattel, which makes it more complicated, all of the reported Maryland cases holding on negligent entrustment involve injuries or death in a car or truck accident.

Not surprisingly, many truck accident lawyers in Maryland bring causes of action under the theory that the truck accident occurred because the trucking company negligently entrusted an extremely dangerous instrumentality, for example, a semi truck, in the hands of someone they knew or should have known was not trustworthy. When this claim is made against a trucking company, it will be found negligent if the entrustee had a history that made a truck accident foreseeable.

For example, suppose a trucking company hires a truck driver who has a record of drunk driving, which the company could have learned of through a search of available records. In Maryland, that trucking company may be liable for the negligent entrustment of that semi truck to that truck driver if the driver was drinking and caused an injury to a third person.

Can You Sue Parents for Negligent Entrustment?

Because so many young people cause motor vehicle accidents, victims often want to know if the parents can be sued for negligent entrustment. Generally speaking, the answer is no in Maryland but there are a number of exceptions. In Broadwater v. Dorsey, the Maryland high court addressed this issue. The Maryland Court of Appeals held that the parents had no legal right to control their adult son at the time of his accident and had no right over his use of this car.

In 2017, in Woolridge v. Abrishami, the court also found that an 18-year-old motorist's mother, who allowed her daughter to driver her car did not know or have reason to know that the girl driving posed an unreasonable risk to other motorists and pedestrians. The plaintiffs argued to no avail that the girl had just had an accident in the car. But it was only one prior incident where the young woman was distracted by her dog in car.

In both of these cases, the at-fault driver was an adult. What if the child was a minor? There is room for argument here. But the risk to the public has to be a specific risk that the parent knew of and others did not. Let say the minor has two prior speeding tickets and an accident in a short period of time. We all know that kid should not be on the road. But if the state of Maryland allows her to maintain her license in spite of those infractions, it is hard to argue that the parent has to overrule the state of Maryland and deem the child unfit to drive.

Conversely, let's say the parent give the kid the car keys knowing the child is intoxicated or otherwise unfit to drive (by illness, injury, etc.). In a case like this, the door is open to bring a claim against the parents for negligent entrustment.

Related Resourcesnegligent entrustment

The tort of negligent entrustment is essentially the idea that a person or company put someone in a position to cause harm that never should have been in that position in the first place. In order to establish liability under this doctrine, plaintiff must prove: (1) the incompetence of the tortfeasor and, (2) the master or owner had knowledge of the incompetence.

In the motor vehicle accident context, it is a claim against the owner of the vehicle who allows someone to use their vehicle who is they know is not competent to drive the vehicle safety.

Here are some examples in the auto tort context:

  • Entrusting a car to someone who is intoxicated
  • Entrusting a car to an unlicensed driver
  • Renting a car to an incompetent driver

In some jurisdictions, like California, the owner of a motor vehicle is liable by statute for the harm caused by anyone operating her vehicle with permission. California parents are also liable for the auto accident torts of their minor children. This is not the law in Maryland.

Maryland Law

In Rounds v. Phillips, 166 Md. 151 160-61 (1934) the Maryland Court of Appeals first recognized this doctrine. In 1997, the Maryland high court in Broadwater v. Dorsey, 344 Md. 548 (1997) utilized the definition of negligent entrustment in the Restatement (Second) of Torts:

One who supplies directly or through a third person a chattel for use of another whom the supplier knows or has reason to know to be likely because of his youth, inexperience or otherwise, to use it in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical harm to others whom the supplier should expect to share in or be endangered by its use, is subject to liability for physical harm . . . .

Id. at 554; Second Restatement of Torts § 390 (1965). The Maryland Court of Special Appeals later flushed it out further with respect to the elements required to establish negligent entrustment:

  1. The making available to another a chattel which the supplier
  2. knows or should have known the user is likely to use in a manner involving risk of physical harm to others
  3. the supplier should expect to be endangered by its use.

Wright v. Neale, 79 Md. App. 20 (1989).

Typically, negligent entrustment accident claims get to a jury because the question is what a reasonable person would do. There is no tidy formula to determine what a reasonable person would do. In Morris v. Weddington, 74 Md. App. 650 (1988), the Maryland Court of Special Appeals underscored the relsaid in regard to a negligent entrustment claim:

There is no litmus test to determine whether a supplier had the requisite knowledge of an entrustee's propensity to use the entrusted chattel in an improper or dangerous manner. For purposes of our review of the summary judgment entered against appellant, however, we note that the Court of Appeals has adopted a very restrictive rule concerning taking cases from the jury in negligence actions. The test of legal sufficiency "is whether the evidence served to prove a fact or permits an inference of fact that could enable an ordinarily intelligent mind to draw a rational conclusion therefrom in support of the right of the plaintiff to recover. (Citations omitted).

Id. at 656.

Parents Are Not on the Hook for Their Children Absent Compelling Circumstances

The idea of negligent supervision of truck drivers is usually a very different animal from negligent supervision of children. Maryland courts certainly do not intend to create liability for parents every time a child has an accident in their parents' car. In spite of what many people assume Maryland law to be, parents are not vicariously liable for the torts of their children based solely on their parenthood. But, on the other hand, parents have to be reasonable in granting their children access to the dangerous instrumentality that is the automobile.

Before You Get Too Deep, Figure Out If You Really Care

Keep in mind that in many cases, the liability of the owner is superfluous. Usually, the owner has insurance on the vehicle that is going to govern the coverage. So ask yourself if you really need it. Do you need discovery on a trucking company and this claim is the only path to finding out what the company may have done? Certainly, the great advantage of these claims is that evidence of specific prior acts of negligence of the at-fault driver and even evidence of reputation might be admissible. This might be a game changer if there as a serious liability dispute as to who was at fault.

There are also coverage issues. Does the vehicle's owner have other coverage that would apply that you need the ability to tap into to satisfy you claim on its best day?

These are good reasons to chase this issue. But if it really does not matter, and it does not if the coverage is there and there is not liability dispute, than just move on to the issue that really matter.

Hiring an Accident Lawyer

Our first has handles filed many lawsuits and settled and taken to verdict many cases where there is a claim of negligent entrustment, usually against a trucking company. These claims have brought our clients millions of dollars. We can help you. Call 800-553-8082 to discuss your claim or get a free online consultation. We also offer fee splits with referring lawyers in and out of Maryland looking for help with catastrophic injury and wrongful death case.

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