If you entrust the use of a vehicle to someone who subsequently causes an accident, you may be liable under New York law for “negligent entrustment.” More precisely, negligent entrustment applies when you allow someone you know (or should know) to be unlicensed, reckless, drunk or otherwise incompetent to operate a vehicle under your control. For instance, allowing your unlicensed 16-year-old daughter to drive your car may negligent entrustment if she gets into an accident and seriously injures another person.
As the New York Court of Appeals explained in a2001 decision, “a parent owes a duty to protect third parties from harm that is clearly foreseeable from the child's improvident use or operation of a dangerous instrument, where such use is found to be subject to the parent's control.” In that case, a farm owner was ordered to pay $3 million in damages after his son allowed one of his friends to use an all-terrain vehicle and got into an accident which injured another child. Even though the farmer was not present at the time, the jury determined he “failed to use reasonable care in entrusting the ATVs to his son, with knowledge that his son's use could involve lending an ATV to his companion, and whether such use created an unreasonable risk of harm to others.”
In a morerecent case, a federal judge in Syracuse, applying New York law, refused to dismiss a negligent entrustment case brought against a mother over her child's use of a go-kart. The child, a 17-year-old with Down's Syndrome, allegedly “violently slammed his go-kart” into another kart during a race, seriously injuring the operator. The victim sued the parents, the child and the owner of the go-kart track. He alleged the child “made threats about wrecking other participants prior to the race,” which track employees overheard.
The case remains pending before U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., who has scheduled a trial for later this year. In a June 24 order, Judge Scullin said the plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to present a negligent entrustment claim to the jury. The mother said her son was an experienced go-kart operator who was old enough to operate the vehicle on his own. She further argued the track owner was responsible for maintaining safe conditions during the race.
But as Judge Scullin noted, the track's potential liability “does not absolve [the parents] of concurrent liability for their negligent entrustment of [the child] with the go-kart.” And despite the child's prior experience with go-karts, the judge said “that does not necessarily mean that allowing him to do so was a reasonably prudent decision,” particularly given his Down's Syndrome. The judge cited evidence introduced by the plaintiff from the child's special education records, which noted he had “low safety awareness” and should not be allowed to operate a go-kart “without the assistance of a job coach or aide.” This was enough to raise a jury question as to whether the child could safely operate a vehicle.
Has Someone Else's Negligence Injured You?Not every parent can be held responsible for a motor vehicle accident caused by his or her child. But if you have reason to believe negligent entrustment contributed to an accident where you suffered serious injuries, it is important you speak with an experienced New York personal injury attorney right away. Contact our offices today if you have any questions.