What is Negligent Entrustment?

Felicia Dye

Negligent entrustment is an issue that arises when a person is accused of using poor judgment by allowing someone to have access to an item that causes harm. In many jurisdictions, a civil lawsuit may be filed against the person who granted access to the item although he did not personally use it when the harm was done. A good example of negligent entrustment is a gun owner who lends a rifle to a friend with known anger problems.

A gun owner lending a firearm to a friend who is not qualified to handle a weapon is an example of negligent entrustment.
A gun owner lending a firearm to a friend who is not qualified to handle a weapon is an example of negligent entrustment.

Negligence is a principle addressed in many legal codes that holds people responsible for making poor decisions. Negligent entrustment is a tort that results when a person makes a poor decision regarding access to an item that can be harmful. Even if the item is not normally considered dangerous, if it is foreseeable that a person could use it in a reckless manner, the lender can be held liable. Such a case could arise if a person lends a vehicle to a drunk individual.

The two parties in a negligent entrustment lawsuit are the plaintiff, who is usually the individual who was somehow harmed, and the defendant, who is accused of negligently providing access. Although the actions and the state of being of the person who actually caused the harm may be relevant to the case, this individual is not a party to the lawsuit. When negligent entrustment results in a civil lawsuit, there are generally a number of elements that must be proved by the plaintiff if she plans to win the case.

To begin with, it must be shown that the accused individual was an entrustor. This means that he consented or was an active participant in the decision of allowing the reckless party access to the item that caused harm. A person cannot be sued for negligent entrustment due to an accident if, for example, his car was stolen.

Harm is another aspect that must be proved. The plaintiff is usually required to prove that there was an adverse result from the negligent behavior of the defendant. If a person lends her car to a drunk driver, that act alone is not usually sufficient grounds for a lawsuit.

Another important element that the plaintiff must generally prove is that the defendant knew, or should have known, that entrusting a particular item to a particular person was a bad decision. That Jerry allows John to borrow his rifle and John shoots someone does not automatically mean that Jerry can be held liable. If Jerry knew that John has been ordered into anger management programs on several occasions, however, Jerry may be held liable because it could be argued that a reasonable person would have foreseen the danger.

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