So You Were in an Accident With a Person Who Did Not Own the Car – Can the Owner Be Responsible?

Whether it be in the employer-employee setting or in the permissive user/family member situation, persons driving cars are often not the actual, listed owner.  In those circumstances, after an accident, it is possible to sue  the owner and assert a claim for negligent entrustment and sue the driver and assert a claim for negligence.  Pennsylvania courts have embraced the concept of negligent entrustment as explained in Restatement (Second) of Torts, section 308, which states:

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 the actor knows or should know that such person intends or is likely to use the thing or to conduct himself in the activity in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others.

Christiansen v. Selfies, 667 A.2d 396, 400 (1995).  Negligent entrustment arises from liability imposed upon a party or person because of his or her own actions in relation to the activity under his or her control.  Ferry v. Fisher, 709 A.2d 399, 403 (Pa. Super. 1998).  The allegations to support such a claim do not need to be detailed.  In the case of Robinson v. Marett, No. 10672 of 2018, C.A. (C.P. Lawrence Co. Dec. 20, 2018 Motto, P.J.), the Defendants’ preliminarily objected to the Plaintiff’s Complaint asserting that the claim for negligent entrustment was legally insufficient because there was no evidence to establish that the driver was incompetent to operate the vehicle when it was entrusted to him by the owner of the vehicle.  In the Complaint, the Plaintiffs had alleged that the owner had allowed the driver to operate the vehicle when the driver only had a learner’s permit and was not supervised by an adult family member.   The Complaint additionally asserted that the driver was distracted by his use of a cell phone or other electronic device, was operating the vehicle at a high rate of speed, and was following the vehicle ahead too closely.   The Court ruled that these allegations were sufficient to support a claim for negligent entrustment because, under the circumstances alleged, the owner should have known the risk to others by allowing an unlicensed and unsupervised driver to operate the vehicle. So, based on the Court’s ruling, the case was allowed to proceed. The Defendant driver and owner could, of course, defend against the claims and assert any defenses by way of a motion for summary judgment.

As always, it is important to investigate and determine ownership when it comes to an automobile accident.  It is also important to investigate and determine what may or may not have contributed to the happening of an accident.

If you have been injured in a car accident, let us help you.  Please call the Law Offices of McMonagle Perri McHugh Mischak and Davis at  215.981.0999.