The Texas Supreme Court recently addressed one of its favorite topics—proximate cause—in a negligent entrustment case involving a drunk driver. In Allways Auto Group, Ltd. v. Walters, No. 16-0134 (Tex., Sept. 29, 2017) (per curiam), the Court considered whether an auto dealer could be liable for negligently entrusting a loaner vehicle to a customer when the drunk driving accident did not occur until 18 days later. The answer: No.
The defendant, Heyden, purchased a vehicle from Allways, but it broke down two days later. Heyden had the car towed to the dealership and proceeded to drink a six-pack of beer. The car salesman testified Heyden did not appear impaired in any way, and he produced proof of insurance; thus, the salesman gave Heyden a loaner vehicle to use while his vehicle was being repaired.
The repairs were delayed. On the 18th day after receiving the loaner pickup, Heyden lost his job. He bought a fifth of whiskey and a 12-pack of beer, and he drank both while driving around aimlessly. While crossing a two-lane bridge over the Frio River, he veered into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with Walters. Both men were transported by helicopter for medical care, and testing revealed that Heyden’s blood alcohol level was .147. Heyden was convicted of intoxication assault and DWI, and he is serving a 10-year prison sentence.
Walters then sued Allways for negligently entrusting the loaner pickup to Heyden. To prove proximate cause in a negligent entrustment claim, Walters had to establish that Allways was reasonably able to anticipate that an injury would result as a natural and probable consequence of the entrustment.
Although Heyden was an admitted alcoholic, had a history of drinking and driving, and had surrendered his driver’s licenses in Illinois and Texas, Allways did not attempt to investigate Heyden’s criminal record and was not aware of his past offenses. Nonetheless, the Texas Supreme Court concluded that Allways could not have foreseen that Heyden would get drunk 18 days after giving him the loaner vehicle (after repairs were delayed and he lost his job) and drive his vehicle into Walters’ vehicle. Even if Heyden was visibly intoxicated when he picked up the loaner vehicle (which the salesman denied), driving into Walters’ vehicle 18 days later was not a natural and probable result of that intoxication.
The Court said: We have repeatedly explained that “the connection between the defendant and the plaintiff’s injuries simply may be too attenuated to constitute legal cause,” which “is not established if the defendant’s conduct or product does no more than furnish the condition that makes the plaintiff’s injury possible.” Thus, Allways established that its entrustment of the loaner vehicle was not a proximate cause of Walters’ injury 18 days later, and the trial court properly granted summary judgment to Allways.