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How does the theory of negligent entrustment work?

The act of teenagers borrowing the family car can be considered a rite of passage in many American families. Most of the time this happens, the result is harmless. But on occasion something can go terribly wrong and an accident ensues that harms others. In such instances, the question can come up whether those who actually owned the car were negligent in allowing another person to drive it. This question comes under the legal theory known as "negligent entrustment."

In Georgia, courts have defined negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle to be when an automobile owner lends his or her car to another person (it does not have to be a family member) to someone whom he or she knows (that is, has actual knowledge) is incompetent to drive or is otherwise habitually reckless. The negligence on the part of the vehicle owner in lending it to someone who should not be driving it must in turn be a "concurring proximate cause" of the accident in addition to any negligence or other wrongful conduct on the part of the driver. If this linkage can be established, then the owner of the vehicle can also be held responsible for any injury or property damage that results from an accident.

One interesting twist on negligent entrustment can occur when the person to whom the car was lent -- the "entrustee" -- is the person who is injured in an accident. In this situation, Georgia courts have held that negligent entrustment does not apply if the entrustee's own contributory negligence resulted in his or her injuries.

If you have been injured in a car accident that involves a driver of someone else's car, then depending on the circumstances you may have a cause of action for negligent entrustment. Consulting with a personal injury attorney who handles car accident cases can be an important early step in evaluating your possible legal claims against the other driver, the person or persons who lent that person the vehicle, or both.

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