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Why negligent entrustment liability for farm employers matters

Nicole Cook for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 August 2018

In a May 1 post on the Maryland Risk Management Education Blog, Kelly Nuckolls discussed safety and liability laws covering the movement of farm machinery. The article noted employers are liable for any accidents caused by their employees while those employees are acting within the scope of their job.

One way employers can be held liable for accidents caused by their employees is if the owner/operator is found to have “negligently entrusted” their employee with the vehicle.

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Negligent entrustment is a civil cause of action that arises when the owner of a vehicle or other dangerous instrument (like farm equipment) negligently provides an “impaired” person with the vehicle or equipment and that person then injures a third person with the vehicle or equipment.

Impairment can include things like being too young to operate the vehicle, being too inexperienced to be able to safely handle the equipment, being intoxicated, etc.

The owner is held liable because he or she either knew the employee was impaired and gave them the vehicle or let them operate the equipment anyway, or the owner failed to do what a reasonable person would do to find out whether the other person was somehow impaired before giving them the vehicle or equipment, and the person injures others in a way that was foreseeable.

Negligent entrustment definition

There is no one definition of negligent entrustment. Courts in most states, however, will generally look at whether the employer knew or should have known the employee was likely to use the vehicle or equipment in a way that could cause harm to themselves or others. A few examples include lending or renting a vehicle to:

  • An underage driver, including your child
  • Someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • An elderly person with a revoked driver’s license
  • A person with a history of car accidents or reckless driving

There are several measures you can take to reduce your risk of liability from accidents involving trucks, tractors and agricultural implements operated by your employees or by anyone you might permit to use them. They include:

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  • Properly and regularly maintain your vehicles and equipment.

  • Ask prospective employees, volunteers, friends or family members for information about their experience operating vehicles and equipment.

  • Know the driving history of every employee, volunteer, friend or family member who may be operating your farm vehicles or equipment.

  • Establish a no drugs, no alcohol policy.

  • Require Department of Transportation (DOT) physicals for employees who will be operating trucks.

  • Ask references for their opinions of prospective employees’ past experience operating equipment.

  • Be willing to refuse to issue equipment to, or to take equipment away from, someone who has not been trained to use it or who has misused or been reckless with it in the past.

  • Document the things you do to ensure safe operations on your farm – and keep all of those records.

In addition, talk to your insurance agent to make sure you understand whether your insurance policy covers a negligent entrustment claim brought against you, and talk to an attorney about how to protect your personal assets by creating a limited liability corporation, an irrevocable trust or some other legal entity to hold your farm’s assets as well as its debts and liabilities.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice.

Nicole Cook
  • Nicole Cook

  • Faculty Legal Specialist - Agriculture Law Education Initiative
  • University of Maryland Eastern Shore
  • Email Nicole Cook

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