Negligent entrustment is a legal principle that makes car, truck or motorcycle owners liable when they allow an incompetent, reckless, or inexperienced driver to operate their vehicle. If that person causes an accident, the owner of the vehicle can be held liable to pay damages.
To prove a claim of negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle, a plaintiff must prove 5 things:
- The driver was negligent in operating the vehicle;
- The defendant owned the vehicle or possessed it with the owner’s permission;
- The defendant had actual knowledge, or should have known, that the motorist was an incompetent driver or unﬁt to drive the vehicle;
- The defendant permitted the driver to drive the vehicle; and
- The driver’s incompetence, inexperience, or unﬁtness to drive was a substantial factor in causing harm to the plaintiff.1
Note that relinquishing a motor vehicle to a minor who is not safe or legally entitled to drive can also be charged as a crime under California Penal Code 193.8(a).
To help you better understand negligent entrustment law, our California personal injury lawyers discuss:
- 1. What is the legal definition of negligence under California law?
- 2. What is the duty of care in a negligent entrustment case?
- 3. What are defenses to “negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle” in California?
1. What is the legal definition of negligence under California law?
Vicarious liability for a negligent entrustment cause of action is determined by applying general principles of California’s law on negligence.2
In California, a person is deemed negligent when he or she owes a duty of care to the defendant and fails to act the way a reasonably careful person would in the same situation.3
2. What is the duty of care in a negligent entrustment case?
California’s duty of care in negligent entrustment cases is set forth in several sections of the California Vehicle Code.
In essence, they prohibit people who own or are in charge of a motor vehicle from knowingly letting someone drive that vehicle if the person isn’t licensed or competent to do so.
This includes when an owner entrusts someone to use a car or vehicle if the owner knows or should know the driver:
- Is drunk or stoned;
- Is underage;
- Does not have a California driver’s license;
- Has a suspended or revoked license;
- Has a medical condition (such as vision problems) that makes it a danger to drive; or
- Had a recent conviction for drunk driving or reckless driving
The applicable sections are:
California Vehicle Code 14606(a): A person shall not employ, hire, knowingly permit, or authorize any person to drive a motor vehicle owned by him or her or under his or her control upon the highways unless that person is licensed for the appropriate class of vehicle to be driven.
California Vehicle Code 14607: No person shall cause or knowingly permit his child, ward, or employee under the age of 18 years to drive a motor vehicle upon the highways unless such child, ward, or employee is then licensed under this code.
California Vehicle Code14608(a): A person shall not rent a motor vehicle to another person unless both of the following requirements have been met:
- The person to whom the vehicle is rented is licensed under this code or is a nonresident who is licensed under the laws of the state or country of his or her residence.
- The person renting to another person has inspected the driver’s license of the person to whom the vehicle is to be rented and compared either the signature thereon with that of the person to whom the vehicle is to be rented or the photograph thereon with the person to whom the vehicle is to be rented.4
3. What are the defenses to “negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle” in California?
Potential defenses to civil liability for a negligent entrustment claim include (but are not limited to):
- The car owner (entrustor) didn’t know and was not on notice that the driver (entrustee) was unfit to drive.5
- The driver did not cause the auto accident.
- The injured person’s injuries were not caused by the driver.
- The defendant’s entrustment of the vehicle to the driver was consistent with what a reasonable person would do under similar circumstances.6
For further assistance…
If you or someone you know was injured in a California motor vehicle accident we invite you to contact our California personal injury and car accident lawyers.
Regardless of who owned the vehicle, you may be entitled to compensation for payment of medical bills, property damage, lost wages, pain and suffering and possibly even punitive damages.
Call us or fill out the form on this page to speak with an experienced California accident lawyer. We create attorney-client relationships in the following localities: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Francisco, and more.
We may also be able to help you if you were the victim of negligent entrustment in Nevada.
Disclaimer: Past results do not guarantee future results.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 724.
- Allen v. Toledo (1980) 109 Cal.App.3d 415; Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co. v. Abdullah (1979) 94 Cal.App.3d 81.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (“CACI”) 400. See also California Civil Code section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person, except so far as the latter has, willfully or by want of ordinary care, brought the injury upon himself or herself…”). See also: Diaz v. Carcamo (2011) 51 Cal.4th 1148; Grafton v. Mollica (1965) 231 Cal.App.2d 860; Dodge Center v. Superior Court (1988) 199 Cal.App.3d 332; Ghezavat v. Harris (2019) 40 Cal.App.5th 555; Blake v. Moore (1984) 162 Cal.App.3d 700; Perez v. G & W Chevrolet, Inc. (1969) 274 Cal.App.2d 766; Syah v. Johnson (1966) 247 Cal.App.2d 534; Mettelka v. Superior Court (1985) 173 Cal.App.3d 1245.
- See also Flores v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co. (2010) 188 Cal.App.4th 1055; Osborn v. Hertz Corp. (1988) 205 Cal.App.3d 703.
- See, for example: Richards v. Stanley (California Supreme Court, 1954) 43 Cal.2d 60; Nault v. Smith (1961) 194 Cal.App.2d 257.
- Allen, note 2; Hartford, note 2.