The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico recently ruled against a plaintiff in a New Mexico wrongful death suit that was based on a successive entrustment theory of liability. The ruling came in the context of resolving a motion for summary judgment brought by one of the defendants, a company that had an independent contractor agreement with one of the individual defendants pursuant to which she was operating a truck to transport cargo. Allegedly in violation of the agreement, the driver picked up her father as a passenger, who went on to drive the truck and cause an accident resulting in the death of her employee who was asleep in the truck’s bunk bed when her father lost control of the truck.
The mother of the deceased employee, as personal representative of his estate, sued her son’s employer, the employer’s father, and the company that had leased her son’s employer the truck. She sued in New Mexico state court and then the lessor of the truck removed the case to federal court. The lessor brought a summary judgment motion. Resolution was to be based on New Mexico law because the underlying truck accident occurred in New Mexico.
The lessor defendant argued to the federal district court that the driver of the truck at the time of the accident was not its employee under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations; that it was not negligent in its own right for its training of its independent contractor who had entrusted the truck to her father, and that it should not be held liable for the successive entrustment of the truck by its independent contractor to her father. The court accepted these arguments reasoning that the driver at the time of the accident was not an employee and there was no evidence that the alleged lack of training by the lessor of the authorized driver of the vehicle contributed to the entrustment of the vehicle. Reviewing New Mexico state law, the court also concluded that New Mexico does not recognize a cause of action for negligent entrustment based on multiple, successive entrustments.