"Negligent Entrustment of a Motor Vehicle" Laws in Colorado

Negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle occurs when a person allows an incompetent driver to drive his or her vehicle and that person causes harm to another person.

Proving Your Claim

To prove a claim of negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle, the injured person must show:

  • the driver was negligent in operating the motor vehicle;
  • the defendant (person being sued) owns the vehicle or possessed it with the owner's permission;
  • the defendant knew or should have known that the driver was incompetent or unfit to drive the motor vehicle; and
  • the driver's incompetence was a substantial factor in causing harm to the injured person.

Negligence

To prove this claim, the injured person (the plaintiff) must prove that the driver him or herself was negligent. Negligence occurs in Colorado when a person fails to act in a way that a reasonably careful person would act in the same situation.

To prove negligence occurred, a person who is injured (the plaintiff) must prove:

  • that the person being sued (the defendant) owed a duty of care to the plaintiff;
  • that the defendant breached that duty of care;
  • that the defendant's breach was the cause of the injury; and
  • that the injuries suffered by the plaintiff are monetarily quantifiable.

Knowledge of Unfitness

The owner of the vehicle has to know or have reason to know that the driver is unfit to drive. It is not enough that a person loaned his or her vehicle to another, and that person was negligent.

There must be some evidence that goes to show that the owner of the vehicle was aware of something that would lead a normal person not to loan the vehicle to that particular driver.

Other Objects - Not Just Vehicles

Most negligent entrustment claims deal with motor vehicles -- e.g., cars -- but other dangerous objects can also be the subject of personal injury claims, like:

  • guns;
  • power tools;
  • knives; or
  • another object likely to cause harm.

Defenses

Potential defenses to a claim of negligent entrustment include, but are not limited to:

  • the owner did not know the person was unfit to drive or use the object;
  • the driver did not cause the accident and was not negligent;
  • the plaintiff's injuries were not caused by the driver or user of the object; or
  • a reasonable person would have entrusted the motor vehicle or object with the person.

Below, our Colorado personal injury attorneys address frequently asked questions about negligent entrustment in personal injury lawsuits and the injuries you may have suffered:

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Negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle occurs when a person allows an incompetent driver to drive his or her vehicle and that person causes harm to another person.

1. What is negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle in Colorado?

Negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle occurs when a person allows an incompetent driver to drive his or her vehicle, and that person causes harm to another person or entity.

When this occurs, the person who loaned the vehicle to the "bad driver" can be held indirectly liable for any injuries another person suffered as a result. This is referred to as vicarious liability.1

1.1 What is vicarious liability?

Vicarious liability in Colorado is a legal doctrine stating a person can be held indirectly liable for an accident even when he or she did not cause it.2

A person who is "vicariously liable" may be responsible for a person's:

  • medical bills;
  • lost wages;
  • pain and suffering; and
  • other damages resulting from a successful personal injury lawsuit.

2. What do I have to prove to win a claim of negligent entrustment?

To prove a claim of negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle, the injured person must show:

  • the driver was negligent in operating the motor vehicle;
  • the defendant (person being sued) owns the vehicle or possessed it with the owner's permission;
  • the defendant knew or should have known that the driver was incompetent or unfit to drive the motor vehicle; and
  • the driver's incompetence was a substantial factor in causing harm to the injured person.

Each of the elements must be proven to win the personal injury claim. With the help of an experienced attorney, you can move forward with confidence in your lawsuit to recover money damages.

3. How do I prove the driver of the vehicle was negligent?

To prove a claim of negligent entrustment, the injured person (the plaintiff) must prove that the driver him or herself was negligent. Negligence occurs in Colorado when a person fails to act in a way that a reasonably careful person would act in the same situation.

To prove negligence occurred, a person who is injured (the plaintiff) must prove:

  • that the person being sued (the defendant) owed a duty of care to the plaintiff;
  • that the defendant breached that duty of care;
  • that the defendant's breach was the cause of the injury; and
  • that the plaintiff's injuries are monetarily quantifiable.3

3.1 What is the burden of proof in negligent entrustment cases?

A plaintiff must prove his or her case by a "preponderance of the evidence" in these types of cases. A case is proven by a preponderance of the evidence if the plaintiff shows a fact is more probable than not to have existed or is true.4

If a jury believes the plaintiff by 51%, then the standard is met. This is not as high a burden as the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard that applies to criminal cases.

4. How do I prove the owner knew the driver was unfit?

The owner of the vehicle has to know or have reason to know that the driver is unfit to drive. It is not enough that a person loaned his or her vehicle to another, and that person was negligent.

There must be some evidence that goes to show that the owner of the vehicle was aware of something that would lead a normal person not to loan the vehicle to that particular driver.

Evidence of this knowledge may include:

  • the accident history of the driver;
  • the owner's awareness of the driver's bad driving history;
  • the driver's lack of driving experience;
  • the driver was unlicensed and the owner knew this;
  • the owner loaned the car to a driver who was obviously intoxicated by drugs or alcohol; or
  • some other situation making clear that the driver was unfit to drive.5

5. Does negligent entrustment apply to other things besides motor vehicles?

Most negligent entrustment claims deal with motor vehicles, but the doctrine can also be applied to other dangerous objects, like:

  • guns;
  • power tools;
  • knives; or
  • another object likely to cause harm.

Example: John loans his marksman pistol to Johnny. Johnny is 15 years old and has no prior experience holding, using, or firing a weapon. John knows this and does not supervise Johnny or teach him anything about gun safety. Johnny accidentally shoots his best friend Clarence, resulting in serious injury to Clarence. Clarence can sue Johnny for negligence and John for negligent entrustment.

6. What defenses exist for negligent entrustment?

Potential defenses to a claim of negligent entrustment include but are not limited to:

  • the owner did not know the person was unfit to drive or use the object;
  • the driver did not cause the accident and was not negligent;
  • the plaintiff's injuries were not caused by the driver or user of the object; or
  • a reasonable person would have entrusted the motor vehicle or object with the person.

Each of these defenses negate an element of negligent entrustment and may mean the owner of the property is not held as vicariously liable for another person's negligent act.

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Call us for help...

For questions about negligent entrustment cases in Colorado or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled Colorado personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us.

We represent clients in and around Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, and several nearby cities.


Legal References:

  1. 47-June COLAW 46 (Negligent Entrustment of Guns and Other Dangerous Instrumentalities). ("It is negligence to permit a third person to use a thing or to engage in an activity *47 which is under the control of the actor, if the actor knows or should know that such person intends or is likely to use the thing or to conduct himself in the activity in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others.")
  2. West's Colorado Practice Series, 1 COPRAC 14:2 (Vicarious Liability). ("Vicarious liability is legal responsibility by virtue of a legal relationship. The doctrine of vicarious liability allows the negligence of the actual wrongdoer to be imputed to another who has no active participation in the tort. For example, a principal is generally liable for the negligence of his agent and an employer for the negligence of his employee.")
  3. Lopez v. Trujillo, 399 P.3d 750 (Ct. App. Div. 1 2016). (To prove a prima facie negligence claim, the plaintiff must prove: (1) the defendant owed a legal duty of care; (2) the defendant breached that duty; (3) the plaintiff was injured; and (4) the defendant's breach caused that injury. citing Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322, 325 (Colo.2004). Of these elements, duty is the threshold element.)
  4. City of Littleton v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, 370 P.3d 157 (Sup. Ct. Colo. 2016). (Proof “by a preponderance of the evidence” demands only that the evidence must “preponderate over, or outweigh, evidence to the contrary.”)
  5. Same as 1. ("Section 390 sets a high standard for a finding of liability, requiring proof that the supplier of the chattel 'knows or has reason to know' of the risk. Whereas a standard of 'should know' creates a duty to use reasonable diligence to ascertain the existence or non-existence of the fact in question, a standard of 'reason to know' does not impose any duty to ascertain unknown facts.")

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