Who Is Liable When the Drunk Driver Who Hit You Is Not the Vehicle Owner?

Being involved in any type of crash can be an overwhelming experience for all those involved, even the at-fault driver. But when the crash is caused by a drunk driver and could have been completely avoided, it makes the resulting injuries and damage that much more frustrating. These situations become even more complicated if the drunk driver does not own the vehicle he or she crashed, leaving victims to ask, “Who is responsible for my losses?”

North Carolina injury law recognizes the legal doctrine of negligent entrustment. In 1969, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina issued a decision in the case Plummer v. Henry, citing the following in its decision:

“Under the negligent entrustment theory the owner is held liable, not for any imputed negligence, but by reason of his own independent and wrongful breach of duty in entrusting his automobile to one he knows or should know is likely to cause injury; proof of negligence of the driver merely furnishes the causal connection between the primary negligence of the owner and the injury or damage.”

In order to prove negligent entrustment in a drunk driving crash, a victim must prove two elements:

  1. The owner of the vehicle entrusted the vehicle to the driver.
  2. The owner of the vehicle knew or should have known that the driver was likely to cause injury.

When a vehicle owner lends his or her car to another individual, they are the ones who are responsible for any damages that occur if that individual is in a crash that causes injuries. There is usually a limit on liability based on the amount of liability insurance they carry on the vehicle. However, if the vehicle owner was negligent in lending the at-fault driver, then there are no statutory caps on the damages they can recover, under the theory of negligent entrustment doctrine.

In order to recover damages under this theory, the victim’s car accident attorney must show the following:

  • The driver the owner lent their vehicle to operated it in a negligent way (i.e. drinking and driving).
  • The owner of the vehicle gave the driver permission to use the vehicle.
  • The owner of the vehicle knew or should have known that the driver was incapable or unfit to drive the vehicle in a safe manner.
  • It was the driver’s unfitness to drive that was a significant factor in the cause of the crash that injured the victim.

In other words, just because the driver of the vehicle was drunk at the time of the crash does not mean the owner of the vehicle is automatically liable under the negligent entrustment theory. The victim must prove that the owner of the vehicle knew before they let the at-fault driver take the vehicle that they were intoxicated and let them drive the vehicle anyway.

Contact a North Carolina Accident Attorney for Help

If you have been injured in a crash caused by a drunk driver, contact a North Carolina car accident attorney from Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp to find out how we can help you recover the financial compensation you deserve, like the $200,000 drunk driving accident insurance settlement for one client who was seriously injured when a drunk driver smashed into his car.

Our firm has been advocating for victims and their families for more than three decades and will work diligently to get you the best possible outcome based on the circumstances of your case. Call our office today for a free and confidential case evaluation.