Texas Court Affirms Dismissal of Negligent Entrustment Claim Due to Insufficient Evidence of Ownership

It is not uncommon for people to lend their cars to other drivers. If a person borrowing a vehicle causes an accident, though, the owner of the car may be found liable for negligent entrustment. A plaintiff must prove each element of negligent entrustment to recover damages, including the defendant’s ownership of the vehicle in question, and if they do not, the claim will fail. As discussed in a recent Texas case,  Sauceda v. Quality Motors (No. 10-19-00422-CV), however, the person named on the certificate of title of a vehicle is not always the owner. If you were hurt in a collision caused by a person driving a borrowed car, it is advisable to speak with a skilled Texas car accident attorney to assess what claims you may be able to pursue.

The Facts of the Case

Reportedly, the defendant driver signed a contract with the defendant dealership that allowed her to take possession of the subject car. The contract stated, in part, that she could not sell the vehicle or leave it in someone else’s care without the defendant dealership’s express permission. It also included provisions regarding installment payments.

It is alleged that a month later, the defendant driver was involved in a head-on collision with the plaintiff. The plaintiff suffered critical injuries in the crash and subsequently filed a lawsuit asserting a negligence claim against the defendant driver and a negligent entrustment claim against the defendant dealership. The defendant dealership moved for summary judgment, and the court granted the motion, after which the plaintiff appealed.

Negligent Entrustment Under Texas Law

The salient issue on appeal was whether the defendant dealership owned the subject vehicle, and therefore could be deemed liable for negligent entrustment. The appellate court ultimately found that the defendant dealership did not own the vehicle and therefore affirmed the trial court ruling.

Pursuant to Texas law, negligent entrustment requires proof of: entrustment of a car by the owner; to an incompetent or reckless driver; that the owner knew or should have known presented a risk of harm; who acted negligently on the occasion in question, thereby proximately causing an accident.

The appellate court explained that for negligent entrustment purposes, the law creates a rebuttable presumption that the party named on the certificate of title of a vehicle is its owner. There are numerous ways to rebut the presumption, though, including proof of possession, care, and payment of consideration. The fact that a party is named on an insurance certificate covering the car is also evidence of ownership.

Additionally, if there is a conflict between ownership established by a certificate of title and ownership established by a contract of sale, the latter prevails. In the subject case, the appellate court found that the evidence demonstrated that the defendant driver, not the defendant dealership, owned the car at the time of the collision. Thus, it affirmed the trial court ruling.

Confer with a Knowledgeable Texas Attorney

People who lend their cars to reckless drivers who cause collisions may be held accountable for any damages that ensue. If you were hurt in a car crash involving a careless motorist, you could be owed compensation from numerous parties, and it is prudent to confer with an attorney as soon as possible. Earl T. Drott is a knowledgeable Texas attorney who can advise you of your rights and assist you in seeking the maximum compensation recoverable under the law. You can reach Mr. Drott through the online form or at 903-531-9300 to set up a free meeting.

 

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