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Setliff Law receives favorable result on a negligent entrustment claim

In this case the plaintiff filed a complaint against a trucking company and its driver for recovery for alleged personal injuries and loss of consortium (damages suffered by the spouse or family member of a person who has been injured or killed as a result of the defendant’s negligent or intentional, or otherwise wrongful acts) arising from an accident in Allegany County, Maryland on April 3, 2015. In addition to a claim for respondeat superior (when a party is responsible for acts of their agents) against the trucking company for the driver’s alleged negligence, the plaintiff included a negligent entrustment claim directly against the trucking company for entrusting the vehicle to a driver who the company knew or should have known would be dangerous. The plaintiff based this negligent entrustment claim on the driver’s known heart condition, past arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol, and prior unspecified traffic citations.

Setliff Law moved the court to dismiss the negligent entrustment claim not only because Maryland does not allow a claim for negligent entrustment to go forward where vicarious liability has been admitted, except for in limited circumstances, but also because the factual allegations were insufficient to establish a claim for negligent entrustment based solely on the driver’s heart condition, single arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol and unspecified driving citations.

While the Court could have disposed of the claim solely on the legal basis that vicarious liability had been admitted, the Court also took the time articulate why each of Plaintiff’s factual allegations and arguments presented to the Court were legally insufficient to establish the claim. In doing so, the Court issued a favorable opinion that can be used in future cases as a guide to determine whether a plaintiff’s factual assertions are legally sufficient to state a claim for negligent entrustment.

Specifically, the Court found the plaintiff’s “allegations belie any conclusion that [his heart condition and conviction for driving while impaired by alcohol] issues were sufficiently repetitive to satisfy the ‘foreseeability’ component that is at the heart of negligent entrustment.” Additionally, a major point of contention was whether merely alleging a driver has a disease or health related issue is sufficient to maintain a claim for negligent entrustment when there is no allegation of prior symptomology that would suggest the driver would be a danger to others. The Court’s opinion suggested this component is necessary and that the complaint was deficient in alleging that the driver’s heart disease “(1) involved any prior instances of symptoms that could interfere with driving, or (2) played any role in the accident at issue.” The Court further found there was no allegation that alcohol played any role in the accident.

The Court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the negligent entrustment claim was necessary because of the defendants’ affirmative defense of unexpected loss of consciousness. The plaintiff argued that even if the driver’s loss of consciousness was unexpected, plaintiff should be able to ascertain and demonstrate that the trucking company knew or should have known of the possibility that the driver would suffer such a medical event while operating a vehicle within the scope of his employment. The court found that if the defendants were successful in proving the affirmative defense of an unexpected medical issue giving rise to the accident, then the entrustee driver would not be negligent thereby negating the basis for a negligent entrustment claim based on that medical condition. The Court stated that it “has difficulty devising a hypothetical whereby a company’s knowledge of a driver’s medical information (and the risks therefrom) would be so superior to that of the driver himself that the company could be found liable even though the driver is not.”

This opinion should prove very helpful in defending future claims of negligent entrustment. The full opinion can be found here: http://files.constantcontact.com/5cd9a6a8601/f2a6354d-b504-419a-bfb3-d285ed850eb0.pdf

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