The negligent sale of consumer goods would fall under the legal doctrine of negligent entrustment. Personal injury and wrongful death claims based upon negligent entrustment typically involve automobile accidents. The issue of whether negligent entrustment of consumer goods (chattel) has been less thoroughly addressed by the courts. However, it is clear that the seller of consumer goods may be found liable for the negligent sale of consumer goods under negligent entrustment. The issue is the scope of that liability which based upon a recent case appears to be very broad.
Consumer Goods = Chattel
To begin, chattel property pretty much covers everything that is sold that is not real property (land and objects such as homes and buildings attached to the land). such as land and homes. Chattel property includes goods and merchandise that are not attached to land. In other words, chattel includes all consumer goods that are not attached to property. This would include the aforementioned automobiles along with equipment, tools, household items and even something like gasoline.
Negligent entrustment of gasoline to an intoxicated customer that later drove head-on into another vehicle killing the other driver was the subject of a relatively recent 2018 case from the Federal District Court in New Mexico. Giant Four Corners, 294 F.Supp.3d 1207.
Negligent Entrustment Applies to Sales of Chattel
As mentioned the law including New Mexico law on the negligent entrustment of automobiles. The Court in Giant was therefore compelled to rely on cases from other states and jurisdictions. The Court found that the bulk of the law in those other states takes a broad view of negligent entrustment of chattel. Relying on these other cases, the Court held that negligent entrustment did apply to the sale of gasoline to a clearly intoxicated customer.
The issue was raised on the Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court embraced negligent entrustment as a basis for the gas station’s liability. However, there remained the issue of whether the sales clerk knew or should have known the customer was intoxicated. The Court therefore denied the Motion for Summary Judgment leaving it up a jury to determine whether the gas station attendant knew or should have known that the customer was intoxicated.
Implications of Liability for Negligent Entrustment of Chattel
As mentioned, chattel covers a lot of ground. It would cover most everything that can be sold. The fact is that many products can be dangerous in the wrong hands. This would include drugs, both prescription and over the counter. It would include household cleaning supplies. It would include a vast array of equipment and tools. It would also include guns if the ruling is applied honestly when the issue comes up.
The only issue remaining, like the Giant case, will be whether the seller of the chattel knew or should have known of the dangerous propensities of the customer/purchaser. And like Giant, this will depend on the evidence and the jury.
Seek Legal Guidance
A case involving negligent entrustment will be complicated on both law and facts. As can be seen above, it will be important to gather evidence to show who sold the products to the negligent user of the chattel. From there, it will be necessary to determine whether the seller knew or should have known that the user posed a danger to others in the use of the product.
Collection of the evidence necessary to prove a case of negligent entrustment of chattel will require the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries as a result of possible negligent entrustment or sell of consumer goods, Collins & Collins, P.C. will be happy to review the facts of your case free of charge to determine whether you have legal claims against the seller. You can reach us at 505.242.5958 or using the online form on this page.