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Employer's Deficient Background Check Supported Determination of Negligent Entrustment of Vehicle to Drunk Employee

The legal doctrine of negligent entrustment authorizes the imposition of liability on the owner of a dangerous instrument, such as a motor vehicle, for negligence by a motorist the owner knows or should know poses an unreasonable risk of harm. The basic rationale for this legal theory is that a vehicle owner should exercise ordinary care when placing a dangerous instrumentality like a motor vehicle in the hands of another. While actual knowledge that the person using the vehicle has a pattern of drunk driving convictions, citations for reckless driving, or a history of at-fault accidents can justify liability, vehicle owners cannot bury their head in the sand to avoid liability. The legal relationship between the parties as well as known facts might give rise to a duty to inquire further. In this blog, our Miami personal injury attorneys highlight a recent case where a Florida appellate court allowed a claim of to go forward based on the negligent driving of an employee under the legal doctrine of negligent entrustment. 

An employer gave an employee permission to use a company car for the weekend to move a mattress as part of a move. Permission was given to use the company car during off-work time and for the sole convenience of the employee. The employee proceeded to down several alcoholic drinks before operating the vehicle and subsequently collided with the plaintiff. The injury victim filed a personal injury lawsuit against the employee based on negligence and against the employer based on negligent entrustment. The trial judge granted the employer's request for summary judgment based on the grounds the company did not know of the employee's pattern of unsafe driving.

The plaintiff appealed the grant of summary judgment for the employer arguing that the company should have known it was unreasonably dangerous to entrust the employee with the company vehicle. While the employer was aware the employee had at least one DUI conviction when he was hired, the company did not bother to conduct a further investigation that would have revealed several other DUI offenses. The employee also disclosed a prior conviction for possession of cocaine. The employee testified that he disclosed to the employer his license had been suspended for prior DUIs on multiple occasions. The employer's background check did not reveal the additional offenses because they fell outside the three-year window covered by the employee's driving record. However, the employee claimed to have informed the employer that he had been subject to multiple driver's license suspensions for DUI.

The plaintiff argued that this information was sufficient to give rise to a duty for the employer to inquire further about the employee's driving history before entrusting the employee with the vehicle for personal use. The appellate court agreed and ruled that the testimony by the employee that he had disclosed a history of multiple DUI driver's license suspensions made summary judgment for the defendant inappropriate.

While the decision to allow the employee to drive the company car constituted negligent entrustment based on a history of DUI convictions, other grounds can exist to find a driver incompetent. A driver might have a history of accidents, medical conditions like epilepsy, a pattern of reckless driving, a lack of maturity or age, and other factors that make entrusting a motor vehicle to the individual an unreasonable risk of harm to others. Negligent entrustment as a basis for imposing liability is not limited to the employment setting.

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If a negligent driver has injured you, we investigate our clients' cases to identify all potentially responsible parties and sources of insurance. Our Miami personal injury lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to pursue the results you desire. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida's top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

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