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Negligent Entrustment in Maryland

Let’s examine the legal doctrine of negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle in Maryland and how this rule gets applied in auto accident and sex abuse lawsuits in Maryland.

Negligent Entrustment of a Vehicle

Negligent entrustment is a tort law claim under which the owner of a motor vehicle can be held liable when they “entrust” that vehicle to another driver. That driver gets in an accident and causes injuries. The doctrine of negligent entrustment can apply in any type of accident case involving the entrustment of a “dangerous instrumentality.” However, negligent entrustment most frequently arises in the context of auto tort cases. Negligent entrustment claims are widespread in big truck accident lawsuits.

The doctrine of negligent entrustment has been recognized under Maryland law since 1934, and it is similar in all other states. The theory behind negligent entrustment is that the “entrustor” (i.e., the vehicle owner) should be liable for negligence when they loan their car to a third person. That person uses the car to cause injuries to another.

The Law of Negligent Entrustment in Maryland

In Maryland, negligent entrustment was first recognized as a cause of action by the Maryland Court of Appeals over 90 years ago in Rounds v. Phillips, 166 Md. 151 (1934). Since its initial adoption in Rounds, the doctrine has gradually evolved and changed. Today, Maryland has formally adopted the version of negligent entrustment as expressed in the Restatement, which provides:

One who supplies directly or through a third person a chattel for the 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…

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 390.

Elements of Negligent Entrustment in Auto Accident Cases

Under the Restatement version of negligent entrustment now adopted in Maryland, there are three essential elements. To establish the tort of negligent entrustment in a Maryland auto accident case, a plaintiff must establish the following elements:

  1. Entrustment: The defendant loaned, entrusted, or otherwise made their vehicle available to the driver.
  2. Knowledge: The defendant knows that the driver is likely to use the vehicle in a manner involving risk of harm to others.
  3. Injury: The driver was negligent in his operation of the vehicle and caused harm to others.

The knowledge negligent entrustment element is always the most critical. The success of a negligent entrustment claim is usually dependent on this element. So what type of “knowledge” is required? There needs to be actual or constructive knowledge that the person entrusted with the vehicle is “likely” to use it in a way that will potentially harm others.

The question of “knowledge” can get tricky in auto accident cases. Anytime you loan someone a motor vehicle, you realize there is a risk that they might get into an accident with it. Traffic accidents happen all the time, so any reasonable person would understand that this is a risk.

But this general knowledge that an accident “could” happen is not enough for negligent entrustment. To bring a negligent entrustment claim, you must show that the owner knew the driver was more likely to cause an accident than an ordinary driver. This can be based on the driver’s past experiences with the driver or the driver’s youth or inexperience. Knowledge that the driver is at higher risk for an accident can also be based on the fact that the driver has a bad driving record (e.g., numerous speeding violations, DUIs, accidents, etc.).

Negligent Entrustment Claims in Truck Accident Cases

Due to the unique nature of the commercial trucking industry, negligent entrustment claims are particularly prevalent in accident cases involving tractor-trailer trucks. Most commercial truck drivers operate as independent contractors rather than direct employees of the trucking companies. This distinction is crucial because it limits the direct liability of the trucking companies in accidents caused by their drivers. Consequently, plaintiffs often pursue negligent entrustment claims as a viable legal strategy to hold trucking companies accountable for accidents.

Negligent entrustment occurs when a trucking company entrusts a dangerous instrumentality, such as a semi-truck, to a driver who they knew or should have known was unfit to operate it safely. To successfully assert a negligent entrustment claim, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the trucking company had prior knowledge of the driver’s incompetence or untrustworthiness. This can include evidence of the driver’s poor driving record, insufficient training, or a history of reckless behavior. By proving that the trucking company negligently entrusted the vehicle to an unqualified driver, plaintiffs aim to establish the company’s indirect liability for the accident, thereby seeking compensation from a potentially deeper pocket.

In Maryland, truck accident lawyers frequently pursue negligent entrustment claims to address the complexities of liability in commercial trucking accidents. These claims require meticulous investigation into the driver’s background and the trucking company’s hiring and supervision practices. The ultimate goal is to show that the accident was foreseeable and preventable had the trucking company exercised reasonable care in selecting and retaining competent drivers. By highlighting the foreseeability of the accident based on the driver’s history, plaintiffs can strengthen their case and increase the likelihood of a favorable settlement or verdict.

Negligent Entrustment in Sex Abuse Lawsuits in Maryland

Negligent entrustment in the context of sex abuse lawsuits in Maryland involves holding an entity, such as an employer, organization, or institution, liable for entrusting a position of authority or trust to an individual who subsequently commits acts of sexual abuse. This legal theory is based on the premise that the entity knew or should have known that the individual posed a risk of committing such acts and failed to take appropriate measures to prevent it.

Key Elements of Negligent Entrustment in Sex Abuse Cases

  1. Duty of Care: The plaintiff must establish that the defendant had a duty of care towards the victims. This duty is often obvious these cases based on the relationship between the defendant and the victim, such as a school’s duty to its students or a church’s duty to its congregation.
  2. Knowledge of Risk: The plaintiff must prove that the defendant knew or should have known about the risk posed by the individual entrusted with authority or responsibility. This can involve the individual’s history of inappropriate behavior, prior complaints, or other red flags that the defendant ignored.  This is important.  There is not usually liability by employment alone.
  3. Entrustment: The defendant must have entrusted the individual with a role or responsibility that enabled them to commit the acts of abuse. This could be a supervisory position, a teaching role, or any position that provides access to potential victims.
  4. Proximate Cause: The plaintiff must show that the negligent entrustment directly resulted in the harm suffered. This means demonstrating a clear link between the defendant’s decision to entrust the individual and the subsequent acts of abuse.
  5. Damages: The plaintiff must prove that they suffered actual harm as a result of the abuse. This can include physical injuries, emotional trauma, and other related damages.

Negligent entrustment in sex abuse lawsuits often involve schools, detention centers, religious institutions, daycare centers, and other organizations where individuals in positions of authority or trust have access to vulnerable populations. For instance, a school may be held liable if it hired or retained a teacher with a known history of inappropriate conduct with students.

Negligent Entrustment Example

Motor Vehicle

Here is a common hypothetical example of how negligent entrustment might work in a big truck accident case:

Acme Trucking hires Joe in Maryland as an independent contract driver for long-haul, less-than-truckload runs on the east coast. Joe has a prior history of multiple DUI violations in Pennsylvania. Acme could have looked up Joe’s out-of-state violations before they hired him, but only bothered to check in Maryland. After 2 months on the job Joe gets drunk and causes serious injuries to Susan in an accident.

In this negligent entrustment example, Susan has a valid negligent entrustment claim against Acme. A reasonable trucking company would have checked Joe’s out-of-state record, so Acme can be charged with constructive knowledge of Joe’s DUI history. Based on his prior DUIs, Acme clearly had knowledge that Joe was more likely to get drunk and cause an accident.

Sex Abuse

When we first wrote this page 20 year ago, the focus was on truck accident claims when it came to negligent entrustment.  Now our practice is just as focused on sex abuse lawsuits . Let’s construction an example sexual assault negligent entrustment lawsuits.

A church in Maryland hires a youth pastor named John, who has a documented history of inappropriate behavior towards minors at his previous place of employment. Despite this history, the church’s leadership decides to hire John without conducting a thorough background check or contacting his previous employers for references.

A few months into his tenure, John is assigned to lead a youth retreat. During this retreat, he gains unsupervised access to several children. Tragically, John abuses a child named Alex. Alex’s parents are devastated and decide to take legal action against the church.

Alex’s parents file a lawsuit against the church under the theory of negligent entrustment. Their claim rests on those same key points we flushed out above:

  1. Duty of Care: The church had a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the children under its care, including during youth activities led by John.
  2. Knowledge of Risk: The plaintiffs argue that the church either knew or should have known about John’s past inappropriate behavior. They claim that a proper background check would have revealed his history, and by failing to conduct one, the church acted negligently.
  3. Entrustment: By hiring John and placing him in a position of authority over children, the church entrusted him with responsibilities that provided him access to potential victims. This decision directly enabled the circumstances that led to Alex’s abuse.
  4. Proximate Cause: The plaintiffs must demonstrate that John’s position as youth pastor and the church’s failure to vet him adequately were direct factors in the abuse occurring. They need to show that if the church had not hired John, or had taken appropriate precautions, the abuse would not have happened.
  5. Damages: Alex suffers from physical injuries and severe emotional trauma as a result of the abuse. The lawsuit seeks compensation for medical expenses, therapy costs, pain and suffering, and other related damages.

Negligent Entrustment Claims Against Parents

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.

Woolridge v. Abrishami

Seven years ago in 2017, in Woolridge v. Abrishami – the last appellate case that focused on negligent entrustment in Maryland – the court also found that an 18-year-old motorist’s mother, who allowed her daughter to drive 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 the 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’s say the minor has two prior speeding tickets and an accident in a short period of time. We all know that kids 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 gives 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.

The Vehicle Owner’s Insurance Will Usually Cover an Accident Anyway

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 is 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 your 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 no liability dispute, then just move on to the issues that really matter.

Related Resources

Hiring an Accident Lawyer

Our law firm has handles and has 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 cases.

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