An Overview Floridas Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine English

Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine

Florida is the only jurisdiction in the United States that imposes strict vicarious liability on an owner of a motor vehicle who voluntarily entrusts it to another. In Florida, the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine imposes strict liability on vehicle owners for damages for injuries to third persons caused by the negligent operation of the person authorized to drive the vehicle by the owner. The doctrine is premised on the view that the one who creates the peril by entrusting the automobile to another driver is in the best position to compensate anyone that is injured by its negligent operation. The dangerous instrumentality doctrine’s purpose is to encourage vehicle owners to be careful in allowing others to use their motor vehicles.

What is Considered a Dangerous Instrumentality in Florida?

  • Airplanes
  • Trucks
  • Buses
  • Golf carts
  • Cranes
  • Tractors

Who is Considered an Owner under Florida Law?

Proof of ownership is an essential element of the dangerous instrumentality doctrine and the burden is on the Plaintiff to prove this. Generally, if a person’s name appears on the title, that person is generally considered an owner because they have an identifiable property interest in the vehicle. The Lessor is also considered an owner and may be vicariously liable for the negligent operation of the leased vehicle by the lessee or others who may operate the vehicle at the time of the accident.

To determine ownership, courts in Florida may look to see who derives a benefit from the ownership of the vehicle. This exception is pretty narrow and only applies in situations where the titleholder holds title under a conditional sales agreement or has sold the vehicle and transferred possession. If a person does not have a beneficial ownership interest in the vehicle or does not hold legal title to the vehicle, liability does not attach.

What is the Difference Between a Lease and a Conditional Sale for Purposes of Determining Ownership Under this Doctrine?

The main difference between the two is that under a conditional sales contract, a sale has been effectuated despite the fact that the seller retains legal title as security for payment of the purchase price. A lease, however, is considered to be a transfer of possession under an agreement which outlines the limitations on the use of the vehicle by the lessee and specifies the period of possession after which the vehicle is to be returned to the lessor. Basically, a conditional sales contract transfers ownership while a lease does not.

What are Some Exceptions to the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine?

Long Term Lessors

Under Fla. Stat. § 324.021(9)(a) provides that lessors who lease a motor vehicle for a period of one year or longer and require the lessee to obtain insurance with minimum limits of $100,000/$300,000 for bodily injury liability and $50,000 for property damage, will not be considered the owner for purposes of determining financial responsibility for the operation of the vehicle or for the negligent acts of the operator.

Section 324.021(9)(b)(3) provides that a natural person who lends his or her vehicle to a permissive user is liable for the operation of the vehicle or the acts of the driver up to $100,000 per person and $300,000 per incident. If, however, the permissive user is uninsured or has insurance with combined property damage and bodily injury liability limits of less than $500,000, the owner is liable for up to another $500,000, reduced by any amount actually recovered from the permissive user or his or her insurer. These limitations do not apply to the owner’s liability for his or her own negligence.

Shop rule

An owner or lessee who has delivered a vehicle to a repair shop for maintenance or to a cleaning service is ordinarily not liable for negligent operation of the vehicle during servicing, service-related testing, or transport by the bailee.

Mere Naked Title

An owner may escape vicarious liability by demonstrating the absence of beneficial ownership in the vehicle, such that the owner has mere naked title. Absent a conditional sales agreement, the owner would rarely avoid vicarious liability under these circumstances.

Intentional Use as a Weapon

Liability is excused for a lessee, bailee, or party with an identifiable property interest when the operator uses the vehicle in a weapon-like manner to intentionally inflict personal injury.

Conversion or Theft

Even if the owner had initially consented to the use of the vehicle beyond his or her immediate control, vicarious liability is not imposed when the use of the vehicle amounts to conversion or theft.

Although an exhaustive discussion of the dangerous instrumentality doctrine and its exceptions is beyond the scope of this blog post, it must be emphasized that the determination of ownership and chain of custody of the automobile, as well as the insurance coverage available to each owner and user is essential to a complete evaluation of the case.

Speak with a Personal Injury Attorney

Talking with an attorney may make it easier to get the money or other resources they need in order to make a full recovery, or as close to a full recovery as possible. After any type of crash, you should consider talking to a car accident lawyer to learn what your rights and obligations are under the law. Let the personal injury attorneys at Suarez & Montero review the circumstances of your case and discuss your legal options. Our attorneys are ready to provide proven legal representation in pursuing your claim and stand ready to protect your rights. Contact us today at 786 Lawyers for a free consultation!