Negligent Entrustment: Trucking Accident

Diaz v. Carcamo, (California Supreme Court, June 23, 2011) — P.3d —-, 2011 WL 2473597
A woman who was injured in a freeway collision filed an action for negligence against the driver of a truck which collided with her vehicle. The plaintiff also sued the driver’s employer under a theory of negligent hiring and retention. The defendant employer offered to admit vicarious liability, arguing that, under Armenta v. Churchill (1954) 42 Cal.2d 448, its admission should preclude a cause of action for negligent hiring, retention and entrustment. However, at trial the court permitted the plaintiff to proceed on the negligent hiring and retention theory, and over objection of the defendants, allowed evidence of the driver’s prior accidents and employment history.

The court of appeal affirmed a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff, holding that Armenta was distinguishable because it involved entrustment instead of hiring, and did not involve an allocation of comparative fault. However, the California Supreme Court reversed, holding that where an employer admits vicarious liability for any negligent driving by its employees, a plaintiff may not pursue a negligent entrustment, hiring or retention claim:

“No matter how negligent an employer was in entrusting a vehicle to an employee, however, it is only if the employee then drove negligently that the employer can be liable for negligent entrustment, hiring, or retention. ( Jeld–Wen, supra, 131 Cal.App.4th at pp. 863–864.) If the employee did not drive negligently, and thus is zero percent at fault, then the employer’s share of fault is zero percent. That is true even if the employer entrusted its vehicle to an employee whom it knew, or should have known, to be a habitually careless driver with a history of accidents.
. . .
If, as here, an employer offers to admit vicarious liability for its employee’s negligent driving, then claims against the employer based on theories of negligent entrustment, hiring, or retention become superfluous. To allow such claims in that situation would subject the employer to a share of fault in addition to the share of fault assigned to the employee, for which the employer has already accepted liability. To assign to the employer a share of fault greater than that assigned to the employee whose negligent driving was a cause of the accident would be an inequitable apportionment of loss.
. . .
Plaintiff insists that the “fault” to be compared in allocating comparative fault is moral fault, and that negligently entrusting a vehicle to an employee involves moral culpability distinct from the moral culpability of the employee for driving negligently. . . . We need not here address in the abstract the relative roles of moral culpability and causation in the law of comparative negligence or fault. As discussed ante at page 13, the objective of comparative fault is to achieve an equitable allocation of loss. That objective is not served by subjecting the employer to a second share of fault in addition to that assigned to the employee and for which the employer has accepted liability.”