Updated: May 23, 2021
Most people have no problem helping a loved one in their time of need. This article is going to briefly address negligent entrustment in light of a case heard by the Tennessee Court of Appeals at Nashville. While the Tennessee Court of Appeals did not address the underlying claim of negligent entrustment in this case, I thought that this case was interesting because of the outcome at the trial court level. This article should give anyone with family, close friends, or people with whom they have an established relationship a reason to pause before helping that person.
The essential facts are the following: The Son was driving his truck and struck a jogger causing extensive injuries. The Son owned his truck. The truck was titled in the Son's name. The Mother did not possess the truck. The Mother did not have any security interest in the truck. The court record does not reflect that the Mother provided her Son financial support on the date of the accident. The court record also does not show that the Mother had any anwareness of her Son's mental and physical state on the date of the accident. The court record does reflect that Mother knew of son's drug and alcohol use. Mother knew about Son's history of impaired driving. Mother had "supplied money for gas and made loan payments" to the Son when the Son did not have adequate income.
Negligent entrustment occurs "at the moment when control of the chattel is relinquished by an entrustor to an incompetent user." Gary L West, et Al v. East Tennessee
Pioneer Oil Co. d/b/a Exxon Convenience Store 172 S.W. 3D 545 (Tenn. 2005). In other words, negligent entrustment is established when a person, the entrustor, gives an item to an incompetent person and a bad event causing damage or injury to a victim occurs due to that giving. (In my interest of being brief, I will not discuss the elements of negligence, causation, and the legal definition of an incompetent person as to negligent entrustment.) In this case, the reasonable trier of fact, the jury, found that there was a causal connection between the financial support and the subsequent incident resulting in severe injuries due to the Son's ability to drive his truck due to Mom's financial assistance.
A knee-jerk summation of this case might be that the Mother was liable for helping her son despite his struggles. On closer examination though, this case was really about finding who had the deeper pockets in order to try and provide some kind of justice for the jogger who received extensive injuries. (As a side note, most automobile insurance policies would not be able to cover the negligent entrustment claim against the Mother.) This case should make any person with an adult loved one, whom they know has possible issues with impaired driving and/or substance abuse to pause and to think about whether to give money to that loved one for gas or any other financial assistance, especially if that person knows the money will be used to maintain the use of a vehicle.
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