Legal Updates



    (first released 9/24/2016)

    Country living in Texas inspires many unique customs and traditions. Side-of-the-road BBQ pits open to passersby. Weekend potluck picnics at the neighbor’s pond. Impromptu target practice in an open field. Front doors unlocked 24/7. And keys left in your auto ignition with regularity.

    Uh, you may want to rethink that last one.

    Liability in auto accident cases often goes beyond the negligent operator(s). A legal cause of action called negligent entrustment frequently holds the Owner of the automobile liable for “entrusting” his/her vehicle to another party if, among other elements, the Owner knew or should have known the driver was incompetent or otherwise reckless when placed behind the wheel.

    Factual case in point: Vehicle Owner visits his friend at the latter’s place of business. Wanting to leave, Owner agrees to give his friend’s Buddy a ride back to town. Owner arrives at location, and both Owner and Buddy exit the vehicle; but Owner leaves his keys in the ignition. Half an hour later, Owner is notified his vehicle has been in an accident. Owner goes to the accident scene, and discovers that Buddy had driven his vehicle. Injured-party Plaintiff sues Buddy for negligence, and Owner for negligent entrustment.

    Fortunately for Owner, the Court of Appeals held that Owner, having met Buddy just a couple of months earlier, did not establish a close enough relationship with Buddy to be held liable for Buddy’s culpable actions. The Court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that leaving the keys in the ignition provided implied consent that Buddy could operate Owner’s vehicle. But the danger here is clear: Owner could easily have been found liable for Plaintiff’s injuries had Owner and Buddy been comrades, or had Owner been aware of Buddy’s reckless driving propensities.

    A negligent entrustment cause of action also extends beyond friends to relatives and loved ones. And nothing quite says “I love you” like being sued by a family member for auto wreck-injuries arising out of kinfolk taking liberties with your openly accessible motor vehicle.

    So let’s remove the possibility of a surprise collision liability issue by removing the keys from your car’s ignition. It’s a small price to pay that may save you thousands.

    Setterberg Law Office

    Dec 27, 2016
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