Negligent entrustment is a variant of the common law tort of negligence. Hays v. Royer, 384 S.W.3d 330, 333 (Mo. App. W.D. 2012). It is negligence to permit a third person to use a thing or to engage in an activity which is under the control of the actor if that would create an unreasonable risk of harm to others.
The essential elements of a negligent entrustment claim are:
- the entrustee is incompetent by reason of age, experience, habitual recklessness, or otherwise;
- the entrustor knew or had reason to know of the entrustee’s incompetence;
- there was an entrustment of the chattel (motor vehicle, firearm, etc.);
- and the negligence of the entrustor concurred with the conduct of the entrustee as a proximate cause of the harm to the plaintiff.
To assert a successful claim of negligent entrustment, the defendant must have an ownership interest in the vehicle (or another thing) entrusted or must have authority to control the use it.
“Negligent entrustment occurs when the defendant ‘supplies’ a chattel to another” with actual or constructive knowledge that the entrustment creates an unreasonable risk of injury.
A “supplier” means someone who “gives possession of a chattel for another’s use.”
Missouri Court applies negligent entrustment but have not used it when a parent entrusts a vehicle owned by an adult child. We are trying to do this in a case. Other states have done so with inconsistent results:
- Broadwater v. Dorsey, 344 Md. 548, 688 A.2d 436, 437 (1997) (finding that “parents who sell or give an automobile to an adult child are not responsible for damages when they lack the power to control the child or the automobile.”);
- Zedella v. Gibson, 165 Ill.2d, 209 Ill.Dec. 27, 650 N.E.2d 1000,1004 (1995) (finding that cosigning a loan “was merely a link in the chain that facilitated [his son’s] acquisition, and subsequent possession and use, of the vehicle, but did not itself constitute an entrustment.”);
- Vince v. Wilson, 151 Vt. 425, 561 A.2d 103, 105 (1989) (finding that someone who provides funding to an incompetent driver can be considered an entrustor because “the issue is clearly one of negligence to be determined by the jury under proper instruction; the relationship of the defendant to the particular instrumentality is but one factor to be considered.”)
- In deciding this issue in Lockhart v. Carlyle, 585 S.W.3d 310 (Mo App. Ct, W.D.), the Court notes that the ability to entrust property is fundamentally grounded in the relationship between a purported entrustor and the subject chattel.
In every Missouri decision recognizing a viable negligent entrustment claim, the defendant has exercised control of the chattel, or at a minimum has had the capacity to exercise control over the chattel either before and/or after the purported “entrustment.” See Hays, 384 S.W.3d at 337 (stating that the plaintiff must show that the entrustor’s right of control was superior to that of the entrustee’s).
The parent/adult child relationship between parent and adult child simply cannot serve as a substitute for the adult child’s lack of authority or dominion over the vehicle.
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