Negligent entrustment is when you allow (or entrust) someone to use a machine that could cause harm and you know, or should have known, that the person isn’t qualified to operate it. If they cause an accident, you could be held liable for property damage and bodily injury.
If you’re found guilty of negligent entrustment
Claiming you were unaware of someone’s ineptitude won’t work as a defense with an insurance company or in court.
Courts use what’s called the “reasonable person” standard to determine liability in cases of negligence. They determine what a hypothetical, average person would do or decide under similar circumstances and apply it as a benchmark. For example, a reasonable person would not allow an unlicensed minor child to drive their vehicle.
Insurance won’t reimburse costs if you’re found guilty of negligent entrustment. Even if you don’t have many assets to seize for a liability verdict, courts can include your current and future earnings, assets and college funds as part of the settlement.
Don’t let someone operate a machine you own if there’s any question about whether they’re skilled or licensed to use it.
Machinery that can contribute to risk exposure
Typically, heavy machinery and equipment pose the highest risk for negligent entrustment claims.
- Cars Trucks
- All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) Golf carts
- Snowmobiles Boats
- Weapons (like crossbows, knives or guns)
- Tools (like pneumatic nail guns, chainsaws, open reel mowers or snowblowers)
You can also be held responsible for the actions of children, guests and people you employ (like domestic workers).
A word on firearms and weapons
Gifting, trading or selling a firearm or deadly weapon to an unqualified or unstable individual is a growing risk area for negligent entrustment. Purchase weapons legally and don’t buy weapons for individuals who are reckless or lack the appropriate licenses.
Giving a weapon as a gift doesn’t eliminate your culpability.
What’s involved in a negligent entrustment claim?
Insurance companies may consider an insured’s disregard for who they lend their things to as an intentional act of negligence.
For a negligent entrustment claim to be valid, the following must be true:
- You gave the person the machinery to use.
- The person acted recklessly or was incompetent or unqualified to operate the item or machine. You knew or should have known the person was incompetent, unqualified or reckless.
- The person was careless in handling the machinery you entrusted to them.
- The person’s negligent use of the machinery resulted in physical injury or property damage.
Lawyers can subpoena and use the following information in court:
- Driver’s license records Motor vehicle records
- Medical and prescription drug records
- Operational license verifications (like a firearm owners identification, or FOID, card)
- Drug and alcohol screenings
- Criminal history
- Vehicle telematics records
Negligent entrustment examples
Only lend vehicles and machinery to people qualified to operate them. Don’t give someone access if you have doubts about their abilities or state of mind, like in these examples:
- A parent allows their child and the child’s minor friend to drive an ATV on their property. The children hit a rock along the path at a high speed, resulting in a rollover that paralyzes the friend. The friend sues the parent for negligently entrusting the ATV to an inexperienced minor child.
- A homeowner throws a party at his rural home. Everyone’s been drinking alcohol. They order food from the local pizza place, but the restaurant won’t be able to deliver it for over an hour. The homeowner tosses his friend his car keys to pick up the order instead of waiting for delivery. On the way, the friend gets into a head-on collision and kills the other driver. The estate sues the homeowner for negligently entrusting his car to a person who he should have known was drunk.
If you’re concerned about liability exposure, talk to your lawyer. You can also ask your insurance agent about the coverages and exclusions on your home and auto policies, and how to reduce your risks.