From the Desk of Kyle Riley: This case discusses consent in a negligent entrustment and “family car doctrine” liability action where a non-owner operated a vehicle without the vehicle owner’s consent.
Claims Pointer: When there is testimony by the vehicle’s owner stating that she did not consent to a non-owner’s usage of her vehicle, and there is no contradicting evidence, then the owner did not give consent. The owner is not liable for negligent entrustment and the owner’s parents are not vicariously liable under the “family car doctrine.”
Maldonado v. Holdren, in the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington, Division I, No. 66467-1-I, — P3d —- (April 23, 2012) (unpublished).
Casey Elmer arrived at Renee Maldonado’s house to pick her up in a vehicle owned by Kelly Holdren, a girl he was dating. The car was registered to Kelly’s mother, but it was used primarily by Kelly. Assuming Casey would take her to another friend’s house, Renee snuck out of the house and got into the car with Casey. Renee did not notice any impairment in Casey. Once on the road, Casey stopped at a Jack-in-the-Box. While in the drive-through window waiting for his order, Casey made Renee feel uncomfortable by commenting how he was unafraid to die. After leaving the drive-through, Casey began to speed and lose control of the car. He hit a barrier and flipped the vehicle. The accident caused Casey to be ejected from the vehicle; Casey died and Renee suffered a wrist injury.
Renee sued Kelly and her parents claiming: (1) the accident was caused by Casey’s negligence, (2) Kelly negligently entrusted Casey to drive her car, and (3) Kelly’s parents were vicariously liable under the “family car doctrine.” Renee argued Casey arrived at her house in Kelly’s car, Casey and Kelly were dating at the time, and on prior occasions, Kelly allowed friends to drive her car. Kelly and her parents claimed Kelly did not consent to Casey’s use of the car at the time of the accident and the car was not being operated for a family purpose when the accident occurred. Kelly and her parents moved for summary judgment; the court granted the motion and dismissed the case. Renee appealed to the Washington Court of Appeals.
On appeal, Renee argued that a jury could find that Kelly consented to Casey’s use of the vehicle.She also claimed that a jury should hear Kelly’s testimony that she refused to permit Casey to drive her car on the night in question to determine whether the testimony was credible. She contended that a jury could find Kelly’s testimony not credible and reject it. Kelly renewed her argument that she did not consent to Casey’s use of her vehicle on the night the accident occurred. There was no evidence presented that contradicted Kelly’s testimony. Although Renee argued that in the past Kelly had let her friends drive the car without permission of her parents, the Court determined that this practice was not regular enough to constitute habit evidence and that it did not rebut the testimony that on the night in question, Kelly did not consent to Casey’s use of the car. The Court determined that Renee failed to present evidence that Kelly consented to Casey’s use of her car; thus, consent was no longer an issue. The Court concluded summary judgment and dismissal of the case was appropriate.
NOTE: This opinion has not been published. It is provided to demonstrate how the court approaches the issues involved in the case. It cannot be cited as authority to a court of law.
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