Attorney David I. Fuchs
Jul. 7, 2014
Car Accident Law
Under the state’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine, in most cases, vehicle owners are held vicariously liable for the negligent actions of a third party driving the vehicle with permission, car accident attorneys in Fort Lauderdale say. This doctrine covers accident victims who may have been injured by a driver who does not have a vehicle, and therefore does not have insurance coverage, by splitting the responsibility between the driver and the vehicle owner and insurance policyholder.
The dangerous instrumentality doctrine states that any owner of an “inherently dangerous tool is liable for any injuries caused by that tool’s operation.” In the 1920 case Southern Cotton Oil Co v. Anderson, the Florida Supreme Court expanded this doctrine to include motor vehicles, so that the vehicle’s owner is responsible for the use and operation of the vehicle, even when another person is driving with the owner’s consent and knowledge. This vicarious liability is a result of the owner’s voluntary trust in the person that he or she has allowed to drive the vehicle, and takes effect should that person cause damage or harm to another individual through negligent use.
However, the state does impose limits on the owner’s liability in Florida Statutes section 324.021(9)(b)(3). An owner who loans out his or her car to another driver is responsible for up to $50,000 in property damages, $100,000 per person, and $300,000 per incident for any injuries sustained as a result of the crash. If these limits are over the owner’s insurance coverage for both property damage and bodily injured, the owner may be held liable for an additional amount of up to $500,000 in economic damages. These limits can be reduced by the amounts paid by the driver’s insurance coverage.
Although the state’s laws cover responsibility in cases where a vehicle is loaned out, a recent case highlights the complications that ensure when a vehicle is being used in consignment. In the case in question, a man employed by an automobile sales company received a vehicle from an owner who wished to have the car consigned. The employee used the car for a personal trip, and was involved in an accident that left another driver dead. The accident victim’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent driver and the company that employed him, but they also leveled charges against the owner of the vehicle, using the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. The vehicle owner claimed that the employee’s personal use of the car should constitute stolen property, but the Second District court disagreed, and allowed the owner liability claim to stand.
Florida’s owner liability laws and statutes are complicated, and often, the owner will fight back if he or she was not driving the car at the time of the accident. However, you are usually entitled to compensation from the car owner if you have been injured in an accident involving a third-party driver who is not the vehicle owner. For legal advice and representation, contact a car accident attorney at the Fort Lauderdale-based Law Offices of David I Fuchs today.