Determining the full extent of an accident victim’s potential recovery following an Alabama car accident is not always as simple as filing a case against the person who was behind the wheel at the time of the accident. While naming the at-fault driver is a good place to start, there may be other potentially liable parties who should be named in the lawsuit. For example, under the theory of negligent entrustment, the owner of a vehicle may be liable to an accident victim even if they were not in the car at the time of the accident.

What Is Negligent Entrustment?

In Alabama, the owner of a vehicle may be liable for injuries resulting from an accident involving their vehicle if the victim can prove certain elements. In a 2005 case, the Alabama Supreme Court clarified that a negligent entrustment claim must establish that:  1.) the owner of the vehicle allowed another person to use their vehicle, 2.) that person was incompetent, 3.) the owner knew of the person’s incompetence, and 4.) the person’s incompetence caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

Often, several of these elements go uncontested because they are easily proven. However, the third element – proving that the owner of a vehicle knew of the driver’s incompetence – can often present Alabama victims with the biggest hurdle. A recent case issued by a federal appellate court illustrates how this element can be difficult to prove.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a motorcycle accident due to another driver’s negligence. The at-fault driver was a Turkish tourist who had rented the vehicle from a rental agency. Despite the agency’s general requirement that all renters be over the age of 25, the agency rented the vehicle to the underage driver.

The plaintiff filed a negligent entrustment case against the rental agency, claiming that the agency’s negligence in allowing the underage driver to rent the car was a proximate cause of his injuries. The plaintiff relied on the fact that the rental agency violated its own policy when renting to the at-fault driver, arguing that the existence of the policy indicated the agency’s knowledge that underage drivers present an increased danger on the road.

The court rejected the plaintiff’s claim, finding that there was insufficient evidence that the rental agency knew that the at-fault driver was likely to cause an accident. The court explained that proving a vehicle owner’s knowledge of a driver’s incompetence or dangerousness requires specific knowledge of that driver’s history or tendencies. For example, a long history of traffic citations or DUI convictions may indicate a driver is dangerous or incompetent. However, general assumptions about a driver based on their age alone, the court explained, are not sufficient to establish the rental agency’s knowledge that the underage driver presented a danger.

Have You Been Injured in an Alabama Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation from one or more parties. Attorney Greg Reeves is an experienced Alabama personal injury attorney who provides his clients with personalized representation from beginning to end. Attorney Reeves handles all types of personal injury and wrongful death claims across Alabama. To learn more, call 256-355-3311 to schedule a free consultation today.