Mass. Appeals Court Reverses Negligence Ruling

BOSTON – A Massachusetts Appeals Court in September reversed a jury ruling that found North Amherst Auto Rental negligent for renting to a college student who presented an international driving permit from Zimbabwe instead of a driver’s license. The 21-year-old customer’s rental car was involved in an accident that resulted in another college student suffering a fractured ankle. After a four-day trial, the jury awarded the injured student $200,000.

Both the customer, Ravinderpal Chana, and the injured student, Wilson Ortiz, were students at the University of Massachusetts at the time of the accident, Feb. 26, 1999. A citizen of Zimbabwe, Chana had previously rented cars from North Amherst Auto Rental on a number of occasions without incident.

The Appeals Court ruled that the car rental company wasn’t guilty of common-law negligent entrustment because the company had no actual knowledge of the driver’s incompetence. There was no evidence of a poor driving record.

The Appeals Court acknowledged that an international driving permit doesn’t confer driving privileges, but also noted that this permit can only be obtained if the holder already possesses a valid driver’s license. The document proved that Chana was a licensed driver. Moreover, the court pointed out, some countries don’t even issue physical driver’s licenses. Rental companies rely on international driving permits out of necessity to serve international customers.

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