Because a negligent entrustment case involves negligence, the standard by which the conduct of the owner is to be measured is the general one based upon the care which an ordinarily prudent person would exercise under similar circumstances and the question of whether a particular owner's conduct measures up to that standard is ordinarily a question of fact for the jury.
On July 29, 1982, Cherie Straughan, the defendants' daughter, drove her car onto the wrong side of the road and hit the plaintiff, Pamela Sue McKenna head-on, causing McKenna extensive personal injuries and damage to her car. A complaint was filed alleging that during the accident, Cherie was driving under the influence of alcohol. The plaintiff also asserted that she knew Cherie’s parents personally and in her complaint, she presented evidence that the defendants knew of their daughter’s serious alcohol problem. The plaintiff further alleged that despite their knowledge regarding their daughter’s behavior and incompetence as a driver, they still entrusted her with a car by lending her the money used to purchase the same, which according to the plaintiff, constituted negligence. Due to the personal injuries she sustained from the accident, the plaintiff argued that she is entitled to punitive damages. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, deciding that liability was not to be extended to those who loaned money and ended up as lienholders, and awarded costs as a sanction against plaintiff's attorney for filing a frivolous motion. The plaintiff appealed this decision.
Can the defendants, who only loaned the money used to purchase the car involved in an accident, be held liable for any damages caused by the driver of the car?
The Court held that the defendants’ status as lienholders, arising from a loan to their daughter to purchase a car, did not preclude their liability on a negligence theory for injuries to plaintiff caused by their daughter, who was driving the car in question. The Court posited that liability was a question of fact, turning on the foreseeability of harm, the degree of certainty that plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between defendants' conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to defendants' conduct, and the policy of preventing future harm. Due to the facts and circumstances surrounding this case, the Court concluded that absent defendants' decision to make a car available to their daughter, she would not have possessed what in her hands was a dangerous instrumentality.