Orlando, Florida (JusticeNewsFlash.com) — Have you ever offered or agreed to allow a friend, family member or co-worker use your vehicle? Many, if not most of us, would answer that question in the affirmative. Here is something to think about the next time a friend approaches you with a request to use your car for the infamous “quick spin–right around the corner–I’ll be right back” trip.
One who authorizes and permits an instrumentality that is peculiarly dangerous in its operation to be used by an individual on the public highway is liable in damages for injuries to third persons caused by the negligent operation of such instrumentality on the highway by any person so authorized by the owner of the instrumentality. Adopted almost ninety years ago, Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine imposes strict vicarious liability upon the owner of a motor vehicle who voluntarily entrusts that motor vehicle to an individual whose negligent operation causes damage to another. So, under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, an owner who gives authority to another person to operate the owner’s vehicle, by either express or implied consent, has a non-delegable obligation to ensure that the vehicle is operated safely.
This doctrine was enacted in an effort to provide increased financial responsibility to pay for the injuries and harms that occur on our public roadways. Essentially, the doctrine is premised upon the theory that the person who originates the danger by entrusting the vehicle to another is in the best position to guarantee there will be sufficient resources with which to compensate victims and property owners if they sustain damages caused by negligent operation of the automobile. Florida’s traffic problems were of sufficient severity to prompt the dangerous instrumentality doctrine’s adoption in 1920. Since our roads are much more hazardous in today’s environment, it is anything but surprising that our state continues to respect this doctrine.
The dangerous instrumentality doctrine is unique to Florida and has been applied with very few exceptions. In order to hold a person vicariously liable under this doctrine, though, such person must have an identifiable property interest in the vehicle. For example, the most common application of the dangerous instrumentality doctrine is where the legal title holder is held vicariously liable for the negligent operation of a motor vehicle. However, there are two notable exceptions to the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. First, a narrow exception exists where the holder of a vehicle’s “mere naked title” is capable of demonstrating an absence of beneficial ownership in the vehicle. So, an individual or entity who complies with the requirements of Florida’s conditional sales statute may be exempt from vicarious liability despite the fact that such entity or person retains legal title to the vehicle as security for payment of the purchase price.
Further, under Florida statutory law, there is only one instance where a parent can be held vicariously liable for his/her child’s negligent operation of a motor vehicle absent an identifiable property interest in the vehicle: the parent who signs a minor child’s driver’s license application can be held vicariously liable for the child’s negligent operation of a motor vehicle. So, the fact that a parent purchases a vehicle for a child who resides at home and exercises some control over the operation of such vehicle is insufficient by itself to impose vicarious liability under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. Family dynamics and the parent-child relationship cannot be used as an independent basis for holding parents vicariously liable as beneficial owners of vehicles purchased for their children.
Accordingly, it should now no longer come as a surprise that you should exercise extreme caution and even be outright hesitant when contemplating handing over your keys to someone else. When you are next approached by an individual with a desire to borrow your car, it is likely a much wiser decision to drive the friend yourself or assist him/her in finding an alternative means of transportation. Chances are you will prefer to deal with a friend’s disappointment for not being permitted to drive your car over being forced to defend yourself in court for that friend’s negligent driving because of the operation of our state’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine.Contact: Rue & Ziffra, P.A.