Parents Win Dismissal of Case For Allowing Minor Daughter to Drive ATV

In Ward v. Ward, No. M2014-02237-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 30, 2015), plaintiff sued for injuries her daughter sustained in an ATV accident. Daughter, who was 15 years old, was staying with her step-grandmother, the defendant in this action. Defendant gave daughter permission to drive defendant’s ATV to accompany defendant’s nephew as he drove a friend home. The destination was approximately one mile from defendant’s home. Daughter’s friend rode on the ATV with her. Daughter drove to the destination, but before returning to defendant’s home daughter switched with her friend and her friend drove on the return trip. The friend failed to make a turn and drove the ATV off a cliff.

Plaintiff asserted several theories of liability, but the only claims at issue on appeal were for negligent entrustment and negligent supervision. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendant on both of these claims, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

To prove negligent entrustment, “a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) a chattel was entrusted, (2) to a person incompetent to use it, (3) with knowledge that the person is incompetent, and (4) that its use is the proximate cause of injury or damage to another.” (internal citation omitted). Defendant first asserted that she was entitled to summary judgment because she only entrusted the ATV to daughter, not to the friend. Defendant pointed to testimony given by daughter in her first deposition where she testified that Defendant told her to drive. Plaintiff refuted this fact, though, with evidence that during daughter’s second deposition she testified that defendant did not specify who was supposed to drive, and that defendant told daughter and friend that “they” could use the ATV. The Court found that this evidence created a genuine issue of material fact, so summary judgment was not appropriate based on the argument that defendant did not entrust the ATV to the friend.

The Court went on, however, to affirm summary judgment based on elements two and three of this claim. Defendant used the mother’s (plaintiff’s) testimony, as well as the testimony of daughter and friend, to show that daughter and friend were not incompetent and that she had no reason to know they were allegedly incompetent. The uncontroverted testimony was that daughter had been driving ATVs since she was around seven years old, that she had driven defendant’s ATVs many times before with the knowledge and permission of her mother, and that the mother considered daughter to be an experienced ATV driver. The testimony also showed that the friend “grew up riding four-wheelers all the time” and was experienced in operating ATVs. Plaintiff failed to point to any evidence that created a genuine issue of material fact regarding daughter and friend’s competence on ATVs, and summary judgment on the negligent entrustment claim was accordingly affirmed.

On the negligent supervision claim, the Court first looked at whether a “special relationship existed between Defendant and the minors present in her home that might result in liability for Defendant’s alleged failure to supervise.” Based on the facts presented, the Court found that “Defendant’s status as the only adult in the home on the evening in question established the relationship with [daughter and friend] which imposed a duty to supervise them, thereby creating a basis for liability for the alleged failure to supervise.” The Court then pointed out that a negligent supervision claim can only be made where the person supervising “knows or should know of the necessity and opportunity for exercising” control over the minor. (internal citation omitted). In the instant case, defendant argued that she had no reason to know that she should exert control over daughter and friend as they drove the ATV. She relied on her testimony that she instructed daughter to drive as well as the multitude of testimony regarding daughter and friend being experienced, responsible ATV operators. The Court found that this was enough to “negate an essential element of a claim for negligent supervision” and shift the burden to plaintiff. When trying to show a genuine issue of material fact, plaintiff relied on evidence regarding the defendant’s nephew’s juvenile record. The Court found that this evidence had nothing to do with daughter or friend’s need for supervision, and therefore affirmed summary judgment on this claim.