In many South Florida auto accident cases, there are actually several parties who can potentially be held responsible for a victim’s injuries. For example, if an employee causes an accident while on the job, both the employee as well as the employer can often be named in a subsequent personal injury lawsuit. The legal doctrine that allows this type of claim against a third party is called vicarious liability.
As a general rule, under the theory of vicarious liability, when a driver causes an accident while using another person’s car, both the driver as well as the vehicle’s owner may be held liable to the accident victim for any injuries. This general rule stands true to the extent that the person driving the car had permission to use the vehicle, and their use of the vehicle did not exceed the permission given by the car’s owner. A recent Florida appellate court case involving an accident that was caused by a driver who took a car without the permission of the owner illustrates the outer bounds of vicarious liability.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was riding his motorcycle when he was struck by another motorist. The car that struck the plaintiff was owned by a rental car agency and was rented to a woman who was not involved in the accident. There was contradicting evidence regarding how the driver obtained the keys to the car. The driver lived with the woman who rented the car, and he claimed that he took the keys off the kitchen counter. However, the woman claimed that she kept the keys in her locked room and never gave the driver permission to use the vehicle.
The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver, the woman who rented the car, and the rental agency that owned the car. The case proceeded to trial, and the woman who rented the car successfully petitioned the court to include special instructions to the jury about vicarious liability and implied consent. The court instructed the jury that it could only find the woman liable if the driver’s use of the car was within the scope of any implied consent the driver had to use the car.
The jury determined that the driver did not have permission to use the car and attributed 100% of the accident to the driver. Disappointed that two of the three named defendants were found not to be liable for his injuries, the plaintiff appealed.
On appeal, the court held that the lower court was proper to include the jury instruction. The court explained that under the theory of vicarious liability, the owner of a car can only be held liable when she consents to the use of her vehicle. Since there was evidence that the driver obtained the keys without the woman’s permission, the court determined that the jury instruction was appropriate.
The court acknowledged that there was also evidence that the driver may have taken the keys off the kitchen counter or with the woman’s implicit permission. However, on appeal, the court was concerned about whether there was any evidence at all to support the jury instruction, rather than whether any contrary evidence existed. The fact that there was some evidence that the driver may have stolen the car was enough to warrant the jury instruction.
Have You Been Injured in a South Florida Auto Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a South Florida car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled attorneys at the South Florida personal injury law firm of Friedman, Rodman & Frank have extensive experience assisting injured Floridians in seeking the compensation they need and deserve. Call 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney today.
More Blog Posts:
Errant Golf Ball Strikes Baby in Stroller on Nearby City-Owned Walking Path, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published June 5, 2017.
The Importance of Following All Procedural Requirements in Florida Personal Injury Cases, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published May 17, 2017.