Insurance Lawyers Should Know Negligent Entrustment

Fort Worth insurance lawyers and all those in Tarrant County should know what “negligent entrustment” is as it relates to auto claims.
Negligent entrustment in auto claims is where one person allows another person to use their auto when they should be aware that it is an unsafe thing to do. This is better explained by the Tyler Court of Appeals in a 1998, case styled, Huynh v. R. Warehousing & Port Services, Inc.
Here are some facts. Specifically, Huynh was driving her Hyundai automobile when she was involved in an accident with Thompson near the intersection of 610 Loop and IH-10 in Houston. Exactly how the accident occurred and who was negligent was contested at trial. Huynh sued Warehousing for negligently entrusting their vehicle a driver who refused to take a drug test after the accident.
The record reflects that Thompson had been convicted of felony possession of crack cocaine in 1989, for which he received two years’ probation. This conviction was admitted by Thompson and referred to on numerous occasions by Huynh during the trial. Several times during the trial, Huynh attempted to show that Thompson had been directed by his supervisor to give a drug test after the accident and that he had not done so.
Huynh contends that the federal motor safety regulations require a driver to submit to drug testing when required by his employer. Section 391.99 of the Code of Federal Regulations regarding reasonable cause testing requirements states the following:
(a) A motor carrier shall require a driver to be tested, upon reasonable cause, for the use of controlled substances.
(b) A driver shall submit to testing, upon reasonable cause, for the use of controlled substances when requested to do so by the motor carrier.
(c) The conduct must be witnessed by at least two supervisors or company officials, if feasible. If not feasible, only one supervisor or company official need witness the conduct. The witness or witnesses must have received training in the identification of actions, appearance, or conduct of a commercial motor vehicle driver which are indicative of the use of a controlled substance.
Huynh claims that Thompson was directed to take such a test after the accident and he refused to do so.
Huynh claims that evidence of Thompson’s refusal was admissible under Rules 401 and 402 of the Texas Rules of Civil Evidence to show his competency as a truck driver, credibility, state of mind, and that Warehousing was negligent in entrusting the truck to this driver. The Court did not agree. Rule 401 provides that “relevant evidence [is any evidence that has] the tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable … than it would be without the evidence.” TEX. R. CIV. EVID. 401. Similarly, Rule 402 states that “all relevant evidence is admissible….” TEX. R. CIV. EVID. 402. However, Rule 403 acts as a brake when it provides that “[a]lthough relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.” TEX. R. CIV. EVID. 403.
The Court pointed out there was no merit to Huynh’s assertion that Thompson’s refusal to take a drug test was relevant to show negligent entrustment by his employer, Warehousing. The trial court properly recognized that a post-accident refusal to submit to a drug test could not have any bearing on a negligent entrustment theory, whether it is based upon plain or gross negligence. The elements of negligent entrustment include: (1) entrustment of the vehicle by the owner; (2) to an unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless driver; (3) that the owner knew or should have known to be unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless; (4) that the driver was negligent on the occasion in question; and (5) that driver’s negligence proximately caused the accident. The act of entrusting the vehicle necessarily takes place before the accident. Subsequent conduct, such as a refusal to take a drug test, has no bearing on a negligent entrustment claim. Since liability for gross negligence is based upon the underlying action for negligence, the subsequent action is equally inapplicable to whether the company was grossly negligent in entrusting the vehicle to the driver.
The only possible relevance of the refusal would have been on whether the driver was in some manner affected by drug use. Certainly it had no tendency to prove his state of mind at the time of the accident or his competency as a truck driver. The driver denied he was using drugs and there was no evidence contradicting his assertion. The investigating officer did not issue a citation to the driver, nor did he offer any evidence at trial that the driver was in any way impaired at the time of the accident.
For the reasons given, the trial court properly excluded the proposed evidence as being irrelevant on the issues it was presented for. And even if the evidence was relevant to some limited purpose, it was not an abuse of discretion for the court to find that it would have been unfairly prejudicial to allow the jury to speculate improperly as to whether the driver was under the influence of drugs at the time of the accident.