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Lender Beware– Suit Against Motorcycle Owner Survives MSJ (NY)

April 7, 2017

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The Tompkins County Supreme Court recently denied summary judgment to a motorcycle owner in <em><a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Perkins-v.-Cnty-of-Tompkins.pdf">Perkins v. Cnty of Tompkins</a></em>, 2014-0037 (March 2017) because of an issue of fact as to the owner’s entrustment to the operator of her motorcycle.
<em>Perkins </em>arose in 2012 when a motorcycle owner lent her motorcycle to her 30 year old brother, an experienced rider.  She also spent 10 minutes showing her brother how to operate that specific motorcycle.  Shortly thereafter, the operator’s brother collided with another motorist.
The motorcycle operator brother brought suit against the other motorist claiming negligence.  The motorist then brought a third party action against the motorcycle owner, seeking contribution/indemnification claiming the operator negligently entrusted the motorcycle to her brother.
The motorcycle owner moved for summary judgment arguing that the motorist lacked standing for his claims since the operator is not a third party injured by the entrustment. The court found that “unquestionably the harm to third parties in this case is not the direct, physical injury ordinarily caused by dangerous instruments.”  <em>Id</em>.  But that the financial harm resulting from potential liability of a ‘concurrent tort-feasor’ is sufficient to give rise to a cause of action for indemnification.  Here, the operator had standing to bring a claim against the motorcycle owner.
The court found that although most cases of negligent entrustment involve an adult entrusting a dangerous instrumentality to a minor,  negligent entrustment can be based upon “the degree of knowledge the supplier had concerning the entrustee’s propensity to use the chattel in an improper fashion.” The Owner argued that the operator was not a minor and she was aware that the operator had previously owned and operated a motorcycle.  Unfortunately, she denied knowledge of knowing whether the operator had a license to operate a motorcycle or whether the operator had undergone any training or instruction on the motorcycle.  The court found that as a matter of law, it cannot be said that Owner exercised reasonable care in determining whether the operator possessed the requisite intelligence and training, finding at a minimum she should have inquired as to the status of his license.
The Court’s ruling demonstrates the extreme importance of taking precaution before lending your vehicle -- especially a motorcycle.  Frankly, the ruling is not surprising, considering that motor vehicle owners are often kept in lawsuits under similar circumstances.  Thanks to Patrick Burns for his contribution to this suit.  Please email <a href="mailto:BGibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.

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