Liability under Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine

With the tens of thousands of motor vehicle accidents that occur in Florida each year, it is not surprising that a significant number of these accidents involve a vehicle that was loaned to the person who caused the accident. These accidents present interesting legal issues, involving when the owner of the vehicle can be held responsible for the negligent actions of the person to whom they loaned the vehicle. The answer, under Florida law, is almost always.

Red Semi-TruckThe dangerous-instrumentality doctrine provides that the owner of a vehicle can be held liable for any injuries caused by an accident that is caused by someone to whom they loan the vehicle. This is irrespective of any negligence on the owner’s part. Thus, as long as an accident victim can show that the owner of a vehicle provided permission to the at-fault party, the owner of the vehicle can be held liable.

However, under section 324.021(9)(b)(3) of the Florida Statutes, Florida law limits an owner’s liability under the dangerous-instrumentality doctrine to $100,000 unless there is a showing that the owner was negligent in loaning the vehicle to the at-fault driver. A recent case illustrates how Florida courts interpret and apply section 324.021(9)(b)(3) to limit an owner’s liability in these situations.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s daughter was killed when her vehicle was rear-ended by a truck that was operated by one defendant and owned by another defendant. Prior to the accident, the owner of the truck was driving; however, the owner asked his passenger to drive for a bit while he took a nap in the back. It was during this time that the accident occurred.

The plaintiffs filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both the driver of the truck as well as the truck’s owner. The case went to trial, and the jury determined that the defendants were 60% at fault for the accident, and the plaintiff’s daughter was 40% at fault. Thus, the defendants were collectively liable for $750,000.

In a post-trial motion, the truck’s owner asked the court to limit his liability to $100,000 under section 324.021(9)(b)(3). He argued that when he asked his passenger to drive, it was as though he had loaned his car to his passenger. The plaintiffs disagreed, arguing that the owner of the truck did not loan his truck to his passenger because the owner remained present in the truck. Instead, the plaintiffs claimed that the owner was involved in a joint venture with the driver and that the statutory maximum should therefore not apply. The trial court agreed with the plaintiffs and denied the truck owner’s request.

On appeal, the court reversed the lower court’s decision, finding that the truck owner did loan his truck to the passenger when he asked him to drive. The court looked at the common definition of the word “loan,” which is “to give temporary control of property to another without relinquishing ownership with the intent that you regain control over the property.” The court explained that there is nothing in the definition of the word or in the law itself that prevents a vehicle owner from loaning their vehicle to a passenger while the owner remains present in the vehicle. Thus, the court found that the truck’s owner should be entitled to the $100,000 liability limit.

Have You Been Injured in a Florida Truck Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Florida truck accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled attorneys at the Florida personal injury law firm of Frankl & Kominsky have extensive experience representing accident victims in a wide range of personal injury cases, including truck accident cases. To learn more about how you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries, call 855-800-8000 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with a dedicated Florida injury attorney.

See Additional Blog Posts:

Assumption of the Risk in Florida Personal Injury Cases, South Florida Injury Attorneys Blog, June 14, 2017.

Florida Teen Killed in Drunk Driving Accident, Four Others Injured, South Florida Injury Attorneys Blog, May 10, 2017.