Negligent Entrustment of Motorcycle

An Illinois wrongful death lawsuit that I filed on behalf of the family of a 17 year old boy who died in a crash while riding his motorcycle recently came to a successful conclusion. On July 26, 2004, the decedent’s best friend drove his 1995 Honda CBR 600 F3, which he had just purchased, to decedent’s home to let him take it for a ride. This motorcycle is commonly known as a “pocket rocket“, due to its rapid acceleration. This feature causes inexperienced drivers to be thrust back causing their hands to pull back on the accelerator which is located on the hand grip. Unfortunately, while riding the motorcycle decedent lost control of the motorcycle, left the roadway and struck a tree sustaining fatal head injuries.

In Illinois it is illegal to operate a motorcycle without a Class M license. Neither 17 year old boy had a Class M license nor did they ever have any training in the operation of motorcycles. Decedent’s family sued the the 17 year old owner of the motorcycle alleging negligent entrustment of the motorcycle to their inexperienced, unlicensed and underage son.

The law in Illinois regarding NEGLIGENT ENTRUSTMENT begins with an analysis of the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in Zedella v. Gibson, where the court stated: “…a person may be liable for negligently entrusting an automobile to one who the person knows or should know is incompetent, inexperienced or reckless.” 165 Ill. 2d 181, 186, 650 N.E. 2d 1000, 1003 (1995).
The Illinois Supreme Court adopted Section 308 of the Restatement of Torts (Second) which provides: “It is negligence to permit a third person to use a thing or engage in an activity which is under the control of an actor, if the actor knows or should know that such person intends or is likely to use the thing or to conduct himself in the activity in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others.”

The testimony indicated that these recent high school graduates had never operated a motorcycle before this date, much less a motorcycle that was described in testimony as the “fastest production motorcycle available.” The insurance company that insured the motorcycle, through its lawyers, filed motions to dismiss and for summary judgment. These motions were denied based on the Illinois law cited above as well as Small v. St. Francis Hospital, where the court stated: “…when a car seller has reason to know that a prospective buyer is underage, unlicensed, or otherwise incompetent, a cause of action for negligent entrustment exists.” 220 Ill. App. 3d 537, 542, 581 N.E. 2d 154, 158 (1991). The Small court also adopted Section 390 of the Restatement of Torts (Second), which states: ” One who supplies directly or through a third person a chattel for the use of another whom the supplier knows or has reason to know to be likely because of his youth, inexperience, or otherwise, to use it in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical harm to himself and others whom the supplier should expect to share in or be endangered by its use, is subject to liability for physical harm resulting to them.”

These “pocket rockets” should only be used by or lent to motorcyclists with a high degree of training and who possess all necessary licenses. Negligent entrustment cases are extremely difficult to successfully prosecute, because frequently the victim or the decedent is the very person who was instrumental in causing the injury or death. This is the reason why the language contained Section 390 of the Restatement of Torts (Second) is so important. “…risk of physical harm to himself and others…” This clearly contemplates injuries or death to the operators of motorcycles as well as injury to third parties.

Immediately preceding jury selection the insurer for the motorcycle offered 90% of their policy limits, which ended this lawsuirt but not the tragedy! Motorcycles should only be operated by or lent to licensed, experienced, and competent drivers.