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Negligent Entrustment in Drunk Driving Case Results in $25M Judgment

The wife of a man who drove drunk and killed a father of two has been held civilly liable for $25 million in damages for negligent entrustment of her vehicle to her husband.
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The Texas case of Casas v. Noreiga sends a powerful message to loved ones of alcoholics and addicts. When these individuals are granted access to motor vehicles, often without insurance, they present a potentially fatal hazard to everyone with whom they share the road. Boston drunk driving accident attorneys know negligent entrustment is one way the courts can ensure those who handed over the keys are held responsible.

An allegation of negligent entrustment can apply not only to spouses, but also parents of children who drive recklessly or cohabiting partners, siblings and even friends.

In order to prove a claim of negligent entrustment in Massachusetts, the plaintiff has to prove several elements. Those include:

  • That the defendant entrusted a vehicle to a person who was incompetent or unfit and whose unfitness or incompetence resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries;
  • That the person who controlled and/or owned the vehicle provided express or general permission for the at-fault driver to operate the vehicle;
  • That the defendant had actual knowledge of the at-fault driver’s incompetence or unfitness to operate the vehicle.

In proving negligent entrustment, our lawyers look closely at the at-fault driver’s prior road history. If it’s littered with traffic infractions and crashes and/or alcohol and drug-related offenses, there is a good indication the defendant knew or should have known the driver’s history before granting access to a vehicle.

In cases where the at-fault driver is a teen, his or her parents might also be held liable for negligent supervision. The Massachusetts Appeals Court in 2003 handed down the standards for such a finding in Cooke v. Lopez. Justices in that case ruled parents have a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect minor children from inflicting harm onto others – intentionally or negligently. The duty can be established when a parent knew or should have known of the child’s propensity for the harmful conduct in question. Further, plaintiffs would have to show the parent had an opportunity to take corrective actions, and did not.

For example, if a parent learns that a child has been cited three times for dangerous driving, this could be enough to indicate the child had a tendency for reckless or dangerous behavior. If the parent did nothing to address this, he or she could be held liable for negligent supervision.

With regard to the Casas case involving negligent entrustment, a jury found a drunk driver’s wife liable after he caused a fatal crash. According to media reports, the at-fault driver admitted he was drunk and high on cocaine when he ran a red stop light and broadsided the victim, killing him instantly. He was later convicted of intoxication murder.

Prior to that incident, he had racked up three prior DUI arrests. Despite her awareness of this, his wife still purchased him a truck (the same one involved in the crash) and allowed him to operate it without insurance.

If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston drunk driving accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:
Wife of drunken driver hit with $25M judgment, May 27, 2014, By Jessie Degollado, ABC-12, KSAT
More Blog Entries:
Lockwood v. Geico – When is a Delay of Insurance Payment Bad Faith? May 29, 2014, Boston Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Blog