Vince v. Wilson (Vermont, 1989)

Procedural History: Plaintiff brought suit against Wilson, who provided her grandnephew money for a vehicle, as well as Ace Auto Sales & Gary Gardner, the auto dealer and salesperson of the vehicle. Trial court directed verdicts in favor of Ace and Gardner and claim against Wilson was submitted to jury, which returned a substantial verdict in favor of plaintiff. Trial court erred in directing verdicts in favor of Ace and Gardner and the court affirmed the court’s decision to submit the question of judgment against Wilson to the jury.

Facts: Plaintiff was seriously injured as a passenger at the time of an automobile accident, caused by Wilson’s grandnephew. Evidence shows that Wilson knew that the operator for whom she provided funding to purchase a vehicle had no driver’s license and had failed the driver’s test several times. She communicated this fact to defendant Gardner, an agent of defendant, Ace, prior to the sale of the vehicle. Wilson was also aware of her grandnephew’s alcohol abuse and use of other drugs. Evidence suggests that the operator’s inexperience and lack of training contributed to the accident which caused plaintiff’s injuries.

Issue: Is a person who entrusts a dangerous vehicle to an inexperienced driver liable in tort for negligent entrustment?

Rules:

Restatement of Torts:

“One who supplies directly or though a third person a chattel for the use of another whom the supplier knows or has reason to know to be likely because of his youth, inexperience, or otherwise, to use it in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical harm to himself and others whom the supplier should expect to share in or be endangered by its use, is subject to liability for physical harm resulting to them.” [184]

Restatement (Second) of Torts:

“The rule stated applies to anyone who supplies a chattel for the use of another. It applies to sellers, lessors, donors or lenders, and to all kinds of bailors, irrespective of whether the bailment is gratuitous or for a consideration.” [184]

Application: Although some courts limit recovery to situations where the defendant “is the owner or has the right to control” the instrumentality entrusted, there are many criticisms to this approach and as an issue of first impression in VT, the court finds towards the rule in the Restatement.

Conclusion: Trial was remanded for a jury verdict. The court holds that if a jury rules that the defendants in this case had reason to know of the driver’s incompetence [due to lack of driver’s license or otherwise] and entrusted the driver with a vehicle anyway, the defendants acted negligently and may be held liable for negligent entrustment.

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