How Florida’s “Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine” Affects Liability for Car Accidents

When a Florida driver acts negligently and causes a car accident, it is well understood that that driver (or their insurance company) will be liable for damages caused by the accident. In some states, including Florida, the owner of an automobile can also be held accountable for damages caused in an accident when someone else was driving the car. This vicarious liability is enabled by a legal doctrine that has been in effect in Florida for over 100 years. Under this “dangerous instrumentality doctrine” A car owner can be held liable for damages caused by a negligent driver that had borrowed their car. Although this legal theory has faced resistance and challenges since its enactment, it remains the law. The Florida Court of Appeal recently affirmed the validity of the dangerous instrumentality doctrine in a recently published decision.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case was a man who intervened in a domestic dispute between the defendant and her son, who were his neighbors. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the plaintiff approached the defendant’s son, who appeared to be escalating the violent situation, and attempted to calm him down. After a further altercation, the defendant’s son got into the defendant’s car and ran over the plaintiff, causing serious injury. The defendant’s son was charged with several crimes for his actions.

Separate from the criminal charges filed against the defendant’s son the plaintiff sought civil relief from both the plaintiff and her son by pursuing a negligence lawsuit. The plaintiff argued that under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, the defendant should be held responsible for the damages caused by her son after she let him use the vehicle. The trial court denied the plaintiff’s claims, finding that because the defendant’s son’s conduct was intentional, not negligent, the plaintiff could not be held liable for the damages.

The plaintiff appealed the ruling to the Florida Court of Appeal, where it was ultimately reversed. While the court acknowledged that intentional conduct by the vehicle borrower may absolve the owner from liability for damages, the high court ruled that such a determination was not absolute. The court ruled that if the defendant could have reasonably foreseen the intentional conduct of her son, she could still be held accountable through the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. Because the trial court did not determine whether the son’s conduct was foreseeable, their dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims was immature and inappropriate. The case will be remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

Who Can Be Held Accountable After a Car Accident?

If you or someone you know has been hurt or killed in a Florida car accident, there may be several parties from whom you are entitled to recover damages. It is advised to seek competent legal advice before pursuing a claim to be sure you aren’t missing out on any possible avenues for relief. By contacting a qualified Florida personal injury attorney with Friedman, Rodman & Frank, you will know that your accident is being addressed from all angles and that you are likely to receive all of the compensation that you deserve. Our firm accepts clients in most Florida injury cases, including car accidents. Call our office at 877-448-8585 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.



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