“Negligent entrustment” is a legal term that means you trusted someone with something that was dangerous, and you knew or should have known better than to trust that person. Under this theory, you will be liable for the damage which that person caused because you gave the dangerous item to him or her. For construction companies, this liability is a problem with company vehicles entrusted to supervisory personnel. Several cases illustrate this principle.

In 1994, an employee driving a company vehicle was found to have a less-than-desirable driving record. Although not the sole cause of the accident, the company ended up settling for $2,600,000 because of a negligent entrustment action asserted against the company.

In a recent court case, Rone Grain Company v. McFarland, the court found a company guilty of gross negligence for entrusting a heavy-truck-class vehicle to a man with seven moving violations and two accidents in four years.

There is no statutory law that requires employers to perform a DMV check of employees, but the potential liability should prompt responsible roofing contractors to do them as a matter of economic survival. Don’t depend upon the insurance carrier to determine who should and should not be driving your vehicles. A contractor is responsible for investigating the driving records of employees before entrusting them with a vehicle. As difficult as it is to find qualified employees, a bad driving record should disqualify employees from positions requiring the use of company vehicles.

Construction companies should adopt a strong hiring policy that requires performing a thorough pre-employment investigation of each driver, including a record of accidents and violations. Entrusting a company vehicle to anyone — even that “great supervisor” with a poor driving record who has been with you for years — is very risky. Although insurance companies require employers to perform periodic checks of a driver’s motor vehicle record, it is up to the employer to perform the pre-employment check before handing out a vehicle.

Even companies that have a strong policy of checking motor vehicle records, and that restrict access to vehicles to employees with a poor record, should review what actually goes on in the field. Does the company job-site superintendent or foreman give the keys to the company truck to a laborer to run an errand? Probably. Has a proper record check been performed on that employee? Probably not.

A prudent company will not allow employees to operate a company vehicle, at any time or for any reason, without a thorough investigation of their driving record and written authorization from the company safety director. To do otherwise invites potential liability should an employee with a poor driving record be involved in an accident in a company vehicle.