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Negligent entrustment of a vehicle and negligent hiring of a driver: McKenna v. Beesley

August 12, 2021 Blog,Personal injury

In California, if you lend your car to someone you have a duty to “make a reasonable effort or inquiry to determine whether the prospective driver possesses a valid driver’s license before allowing” that person to drive your car.

This is from California Vehicle Code section 14604. This is similar to the requirement if you run a business and authorize another person to drive on behalf of the company. The law says you cannot “employ, hire, knowingly permit, or authorize any person to drive a motor vehicle owned by [you] or under [your] control upon the highways unless that person is licensed for the appropriate class of vehicle to be driven.” This is California Vehicle Code 14606.

We also have a Jury Instruction about these same elements: CACI 724. And now we also have case law to further explain what these laws mean: McKenna v. Beesley, filed 8/6/21 out of Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 1, cited as 2021 WL 3464101.

In McKenna, Defendant permitted Driver to drive Defendant’s vehicle and Driver did not possess a valid driver’s license. Driver crashed into and injured Plaintiff.

McKenna addresses two issues new to California Law:

New issue #1

“We are not aware of any authority, and neither party has cited any, that addresses whether a person who hires another to drive a vehicle under the hirer’s control has a duty to make a reasonable effort or inquiry to determine whether the hiree has a valid driver’s license.”

The holding here: the business must check. “[W]e conclude that a hirer has, at a minimum, a duty to make a ‘reasonable effort or inquiry’ (§ 14604, subd. (a)) into whether the hiree, entrusted with a vehicle, has an appropriate driver’s license.”

New issue #2

“Nor are we aware of any authority involving whether a hirer who breaches that duty, and who permits an unlicensed driver to drive the vehicle, may be found to have constructive knowledge of the hiree’s incompetence to drive for purposes of a negligent hiring claim.”

The holding: yes, we have constructive knowledge on the company. “[W]e conclude that a jury may find the constructive knowledge element of a cause of action for negligent hiring of a driver proven by evidence that a hirer entrusted a vehicle to a hiree and: (1) the hirer did not make any ‘reasonable effort or inquiry’ (§ 14604, subd. (a)) into whether the hiree had an appropriate driver’s license and; (2) the hiree in fact lacked an appropriate driver’s license.”