Who is at Fault When Someone Negligently Sells a Bad Driver a Motorcycle?

Can someone injured by the negligence of a motorcycle driver sue the seller of the motorcycle for his injuries?  This was the question recently addressed by the Massachusetts Appeals Court in a decision that came down this month.

According to the decision, Red Streak (company), Beverly Fox and Dobay owned a motorcycle.  They intended to transferred title, or sell the motorcycle, to Ms. Rice.  Jayne Rice, the new owner, allowed Mr. Foster to use her motorcycle.  Foster negligently crashed the motorcycle into Timothy O’Leary, who was also operating a motorcycle.  At the time of the collision, the Rice motorcycle was unregistered and uninsured.

Negligent Entrustment of a Motor Vehicle

In this case, Mr. O’Leary alleged that Mr. Foster was a bad driver; that he was an inexperienced motorcycle driver, that he did not have a license, and that his motor vehicle driving record was replete with driving infractions.  In fact, Mr. O’Leary alleges that Mr. Dobay “knew Foster was an irresponsible and terrible motorist” and that any actions he took to allow Mr. Foster to drive a motorcycle would be negligently entrusting that vehicle to Mr. Foster.  He alleged that Ms. Rice knew all of this as well.

Negligent entrustment is a tort, or civil cause of action, in Massachusetts.  It results when the defendant entrusts or allows someone to use a vehicle to someone else who is unfit for driving a vehicle and the owner had actual knowledge that the driver was incompetent to drive.  In cases where negligent entrustment is found you cannot simply show that the driver was inexperienced, or had a single incident of prior behavior, but a long history of accidents, traffic violations, or bad driving that the owner is aware of.

The argument in this case is that Red Streak, Fox and Dobay were still the owners of the motorcycle.  For some reason, when they transferred the motorcycle to Ms. Rice, they simply took monies from her credit line, but did not actually transfer the title.  Further, since they knew that the reason Ms. Rice wanted the motorcycle was for Ms. Foster to drive it, and they knew of his poor driving record, they are also responsible for negligent entrustment.  The issue for the Court is to determine if there were sufficient facts alleged to go to trial on this issue.

Why Sue For Negligent Entrustment?

Given the complications in proving that all of these separate parties knew of Mr. Foster’s bad driving history and propensity to be involved in accidents, why bother?  Why not just sue Mr. Foster, who was the alleged negligent driver of the motorcycle that injured Mr. O’Leary?  The answer is usually because the driver lacked sufficient insurance.  Or a deep pocket.  If the vehicle was owned by a large corporation, or was heavily insured, it is not likely that Mr. Foster would file lawsuits against all of these other parties.

Negligent entrustment law helps injured victims recover from persons who knew that they should not allow vehicles into the hands of poor drivers.  We have used this argument many times.  You need an experienced lawyer to undertake extensive discovery to prove negligent entrustment.

Experienced Motor Vehicle Attorneys

If you are injured as a result of a motor vehicle accident or collision, be sure to retain the services of an experienced motor vehicle attorney.  In this case, the accident was in 2006 and the lawsuit filed in 2007; the motion to add the three additional defendants (Red Streak, Fox and Dobay) was not until 2009.  The reason for the two year delay was likely because an experienced attorney, through discovery, found information that brought in parties with additional insurance.  Aggressive representation resulted in fighting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and filing an appeal when Mr. O’Leary lost that motion.  The Appeals Court set this case towards trial.

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