New Mexico Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Rental Car Company After Renter Is Involved in an Accident

Earlier this year, a federal appellate court issued a ruling in a negligent entrustment lawsuit filed by two individuals against a rental car company, whose patrons injured the plaintiffs in a New Mexico car accident.

Desert HighwayFacts of the Case

In 2014, a group of 21-year-old men from Turkey rented a car from a rental company in Lake Powell. The individual who rented the car was able to provide the company with a Turkish driver’s license and a credit card; another person in the group also provided his Turkish license, and another positively affirmed that he possessed a license. Although all of the individuals were under 21, the rental car employee still permitted one of the individuals (D1) to rent both a caravan and a convertible, and he authorized the other person in the party to be listed as an authorized driver. However, no one in the group completed the additional driver application, including the third individual in the group (D2). Renting a car to an individual under 21 was noted to be a departure from company policy and contrary to policies followed by most other rental car companies.

During the rental, D2 was driving the convertible, turned left without yielding to traffic, and ran into the plaintiff. The collision resulted in the plaintiff suffering severe injuries, including broken bones and a punctured lung.

Procedural Posture

The plaintiff filed an action in New Mexico state court, alleging that D1, D2, and the parent company of the car rental company were negligent. Furthermore, they added the specific rental car company and alleged negligent entrustment. Negligent entrustment is a theory of liability whereby one party is held liable because they negligently provided another person with a dangerous instrumentality, and that party caused an injury with that object. The car company moved for summary judgment, and the motion was granted, at which point the plaintiffs appealed to the circuit court.

Summary Judgment Ruling

The district court argued that summary judgment was appropriate because the plaintiffs did not conform to the appropriate filing requirements. Specifically, the court found that the plaintiff’s evidence that the rental car company violated internal policies was not enough to meet the requisite standard needed to overcome summary judgment. In this case, their evidence would need to establish that the rental company knew or should have known that D2 was going to operate the convertible in a way that would cause an unreasonable risk of harm. The court ultimately found that the disputes of fact among the parties were not material.

New Mexico Circuit Court Ruling

In these instances, a New Mexico plaintiff who argues negligent entrustment must establish five key factors. These are whether:

  • The defendant was in control or the owner of the vehicle;
  • The defendant permitted the third party to use the vehicle;
  • The defendant should have known, or did know, that the party was going to use the vehicle in a way that would cause unreasonable risks to others;
  • The third party was negligent in the operation of the vehicle; and
  • The third party’s behavior caused the injury to the plaintiff.

The factor at issue in this case was whether the rental car company knew or should have known that D2 would drive the car and cause harm to another person. The plaintiff alleged that they should have known because of his age and the policy of their own and other similar companies. However, the court found that a driver’s age does not make it more likely that they will cause an accident. Ultimately, the circuit court agreed with the district court and affirmed summary judgment in favor of the rental company.

Have You Been Injured in New Mexico Because of Another Driver’s Negligence?

New Mexico negligence cases are not as straightforward as they may appear. There are many facets in a negligence lawsuit that determine whether liability is appropriate and whether compensation should be awarded. These cases can involve the application of many complicated laws, theories, and procedural requirements. An attorney at the Fine Law Firm can help you navigate this system and pursue the compensation you deserve. Contact a New Mexico car accident attorney at 800-640-6590 to schedule your free initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Court Issues Opinion in Spa Injury Case, Siding with Plaintiff, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, March 20, 2017.

Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Business in Recent Premises Liability Case, Citing Open and Obvious Danger, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, April 3, 2018.