A Florida statutory subsection limits damages when an owner loans his vehicle to another person whose negligent operation of the car leads to damages to a victim. In that case, the owner is liable only up to $100,000 per person and up to $300,000 per incident for bodily injury and $50,000 for property damage.
In a recent case, a father and son shared title to a vehicle. The son crashed into a woman and her three minor children. The accident killed one of the three children and injured all of them. The woman and her husband sued the son for negligence and also sued his father as being “vicariously liable” because he was a joint owner of the car.
The jury found that both the son and the woman were 50% negligent. The jury awarded the father of the three children medical and funeral expenses for the child that had been killed. It also awarded past and future pain and suffering to each member of the family, plus medical expenses to the two living children.
The trial court ordered the son and father to pay 50% of the verdict due to the mother’s comparative negligence. However, the court also ordered the son and father to pay an individual award to the father that exceeded the son’s percentage of fault.
The father appealed, raising two issues: (1) that the trial court erred by not enforcing a statutory cap on damage awards in entrustment cases and (2) that he shouldn’t be required to pay damages that exceeded his son’s percentage of fault.
On appeal, the father did not contest that his son was negligent in driving the car. But, in his view, he was entitled to a limitation on the damages as provided by the statutory cap in the case of a “loaned” vehicle. In the father’s view, he should have only been liable $100,000 for the death of one of the minors and 200,000 for the injuries to the other minors, minus previously paid sums.
The appellate court noted that the son and father were co-owners — both had equal right to use the car. The father believed the term “loans” in the statute was ambiguous, but the appellate court disagreed, explaining that a loan is only possible when an object is temporarily given to someone who has no legal right to the object.
The father also argued that the statute was to be liberally construed. The appellate court disagreed with this as well. It explained that though “loans” was not defined in the statute, there was also no clear intent by the legislature to give it a meaning other than its plain dictionary definition. Accordingly, it concluded that the trial court did not err in denying him the statutory cap reserved for situations in which an owner loans a non-owner his or her car.
With respect to the father’s argument that he shouldn’t have to pay more than 50% of the other father’s recovery, the court noted that the son had unsuccessfully tried to amend his answer at the start of the lawsuit to include a counterclaim for contribution against the mother who had been driving. The jury had awarded the plaintiff father $1 million to be paid by the other father.
The appellate court found that this attempt put the plaintiffs on notice that the defendants, including the father, would try to seek contribution from the mother if the jury found her at fault. The father argued that the mother should have to contribute $500,000 of the $1 million award.
The appellate court agreed that the mother should have to contribute to the award and that the lower court had erred in failing to permit the father to seek contribution from her.
If you are injured or a loved one is wrongfully killed because of somebody else’s negligence, call the experienced personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.
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