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Negligent Entrustment Case Law

As stated in Parker v. Beattie, Del. Super., 1989 W.L. 112037 (1989):

The law with regard to negligent entrustment is set forth at § 390 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts:

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 himself and others whom the supplier should expect to share in or be endangered by its use, is subject to liability for physical harm resulting to them.

The doctrine of negligent entrustment has been accepted in Delaware. Smith v. Callahan, 34 Del. 129, 144 A. 46, 51 (1928); Markland v. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Co., Del. Super., 351 A.2d 89, 93 (1976); Bennett v. Foulk, Del. Super., 57 C.A. No. 1977 (Balick, J.) (June 12, 1978) (Order).

Under this doctrine, the owner of a motor vehicle who supplies the vehicle to an incompetent or unfit person, and knows or should know that such person is incompetent or unfit to drive, will be liable for injuries caused by that person's negligent use of the vehicle. Markland v. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Co., supra at 93; Bennett v. Foulk, supra at 2.

Proof that an owner of a motor vehicle in fact entrusted the vehicle to the driver requires a showing that the owner granted the driver specific or general permission to drive the vehicle. Leone v. Doran, 363 Mass. 1, 292 N.E.2d 19 (1973). That is to say, there must be a giving over of the vehicle after a relationship of confidence regarding its care, use, or disposition by the driver. Humphries v. Going, D.C.N.C., 59 F.R.D. 583, 587 (1973).

An entrustment may be found without express permission, where a pattern of prior conduct implies permissive use. Demby v. Davis, 212 Va. 836, 188 S.E.2d 226 (1972).

A course of conduct may, therefore, establish permissive use without the necessity of the plaintiff showing specific authority in a single instance. Thomas v. Henson, 249 Ark. 324, 459 S.W.2d 124 (1970); Levy v. McMullen, 169 Miss. 659, 152 So. 899 (1934).

To satisfy this permissive use approach, it need only be found that the owner knew, or had reasonable cause to know, that his or her actions would place the operation of a motor vehicle in the care of a person unfit to handle that responsibility. Demby v. Davis at 229. The entrustment must, however, be voluntary on the part of the owner, and effective to give possession and control of the motor vehicle to the driver. Swanson v. Comeaux, 286 So.2d 117 (La. 1973).

The elements of negligent entrustment are:

(1) entrustment of the automobile;

(2) to a reckless or incompetent driver whom;

(3) the entrustor has reason to know is reckless or incompetent;

(4) resulting damages. Harris v. Harris, Del. Super., 1997 WL 366855 (1977).

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