How Texas law can impose liability on you for accidents caused by someone driving your car…and how you steer clear of it. (Pun intended.)
Sounds harmless. No big deal, right?
You want to be a good neighbor, friend, relative…whatever the case may be. But before you hand over your keys to your best friend (or to your mother-in-law, for that matter), you need to ask some “wellness” questions. The first one being, “How WELL do I really know this person?”
Because negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle by an owner (you and your related owner liability) occurs in Texas when:
#1 – The vehicle owner entrusts a vehicle to a person who is an unlicensed, incompetent or reckless driver,
#2 – The owner knows this or should know this about the driver, and
#3 – The driver is then in an accident that was the driver’s fault.
So there you have it.
You tried doing someone a favor (the wrong someone, as it turns out), and BOOM! Now you may get sued! The driver of your car can get sued for the accident…and so can you if you negligently provided the vehicle. Basically, Texas law says vehicle owners need to act reasonably when letting others drive their cars.
So what’s reasonably?
If your best friend Joe has had a few beers watching the ball game with you, he’s probably not the guy to send in your car (or his, for that matter) to 7-Eleven to get more chips. Legally impaired drivers are always considered “incompetent drivers” when it comes to negligent entrustment. In other words, you did not act reasonably by letting him drive your car.
But what if Joe is not impaired when you hand over your keys, but he later gets that way (accidentally fills up on margaritas not gas) and an accident follows? Do you, as the vehicle owner, have a liability problem? PERHAPS. It depends on Joe’s history of such behavior and if you knew or should have known about it.
Finally, what if Joe is not impaired and has no history of impaired driving, but he does have a rather rugged driving record? Say, several speeding tickets and perhaps a prior accident or two? Under this scenario is Joe a “reckless driver?” The answer is…POSSIBLY. It will depend on just how bad his driving record is, what you knew about his driving habits and, to some degree, how the accident occurred.
For example, if you KNOW Joe always drives fast, has had several speeding tickets and his speeding then caused an accident, the vehicle owner (you) may well have a legal problem. In other words, it was not a reasonable decision for you to let Joe drive your car.
Take a reasonably cautious approach before you let someone cruise off in your car.
Assess the driver. Ask some basic questions. Make sure there’s a valid drivers license. If you know the person has bad driving habits, think twice. If they’re young and inexperienced or older with slowed reflexes, factor that into your decision. If the person is impaired (alcohol, medication, exhaustion, bad vision, etc.), just say no.
Holding on to your car keys may make for an awkward moment and a strained relationship, but it’s far better than an accident through negligent entrustment and all that goes with it. Best friend Joe will get over it!
Stay safe out there!
Representing the Seriously Injured & Victims of Wrongful Death Since 1981.