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Negligent entrustment explained

It may be widely assumed amongst many in Seattle that teen drivers pose a greater risk to other motorists than adults. Yet is there any evidence to back up this assumption, and if there is, could those entrust teens with vehicles also be held liable for any car accidents they may cause?

Statistics show that drivers between the ages of 16-19 are three times as likely to be involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident than those over the age of 20. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list the following car accident risks factors as being particularly prevalent among teens:

  • Not recognizing dangerous driving conditions
  • Speeding
  • Driving during late hours
  • Drinking and driving
  • Not wearing seat belts
  • Following other vehicles too closely

All of these risk factors are related to a single element plaguing all teen drivers: inexperience. Of course, in order to gain the experience needed to develop safe driving skills, teens need to be allowed on the road. Unfortunately, that experience may come at the risk of others.

Could a parent or guardian that allows a teen access to a car be held liable for the teen’s subsequent actions? The legal doctrine of negligent entrustment assigns such fault in these situations. Appellate court rulings in Washington have established the standard for applying negligent entrustment to a case. For it to qualify, the person who entrusted the vehicle to another had to have known that party to be reckless, heedless or incompetent behind the wheel. Furthermore, the person had to have been able to foresee the potential consequences of entrusting the vehicle to the negligent party. In order for past conduct to be cited as proof of one’s recklessness, it must to have been frequent enough to make assuming it to continue plausible.