Understanding the concept of negligent entrustment

Those driving on San Jose's roads likely strive to be mindful of the other motorists around them, with the expectation that the same courtesy will be returned to them. Yet people have no control over the actions of others, and the chance of encountering a reckless or incompetent driver is ever-present. Teen drivers (whose skills are likely still relatively green) might pose a particular threat. While they need opportunities to gain experience behind the wheel, their parents or guardians are expected to try and ensure that experience is attained without posing a risk to others. If and when that expectation is not met, one might wonder if liability would then fall to said parents rather than their teens. 

Assigning liability to a parent when their teenage driver causes a car accident is possible through a legal principle known as negligent entrustment. To apply negligent entrustment to such a case, California's Civil Jury Instructions mandate that a plaintiff prove the following elements: 

  • The teen was negligent in the operation of the vehicle
  • Their parents had given them permission to use the vehicle 
  • The parents knew (or should have known) of the teen's reckless tendencies behind the wheel (or the risks they posed due to their lack of experience driving)
  • Knowing this, the parents still entrusted the teen with the vehicle
  • The teen's recklessness or incompetence was a substantial factor in causing the accident

Some might argue that it should not be automatically assumed that a teen was driving recklessly simply because they are a teen. Research findings compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show, however, the risk of accidents caused by drivers ages 16-19 is higher than with any other age group. A propensity to engage in reckless actions is cited as a potential reason for this increased risk. 


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