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Quick Law: Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine

On Behalf of | Feb 17, 2017 | Uncategorized

Hide ya keys, hide ya car, cause errbody getting in wrecks out here (click here for the reference). Seriously though, think twice before you lend someone the keys to your car. Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine stands for the proposition that since motor vehicles are dangerous instrumentalities, their owners should be held liable for the negligent operation of the vehicles by persons to whom they have been entrusted. The Florida Supreme Court extended the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine to automobiles in 1920. The idea is that plaintiffs injured by negligent drivers would have a better chance of financial protection due to the fact that the vehicle’s owner is in the best position to ensure that there will be adequate financial resources with which to pay damages to injured plaintiffs. In Southern Cotton Oil Co. v. Anderson, the court says, “an automobile being a dangerous machine, its owner should be held responsible for the manner in which it is used; and his liability should extend to its use by anyone with his consent. He may not deliver it over to anyone he pleases and not be responsible for the consequences.” The following is the law in a nutshell:

  • Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine is a common law doctrine which provides that the owner of an inherently dangerous tool is liable for any injuries caused by that tool’s operation.

  • While letting your friend or family member use your car is a common practice these days, it is important that the owner/lender of the subject vehicle be aware that s/he can be held liable for any injuries that are caused by the use of their vehicle.

  • Your permission can be express or implied and does not have to be in writing for it to be valid for the purposes of this doctrine.

  • Exceptions:

    • Your car is stolen.

    • There is a “beneficial ownership exception.” This exception precludes vicarious liability when the titleholder lacks beneficial ownership of the vehicle. It only applies in cases where equitable and legal rights of control have passed to another and the titleholder retains bare legal paper title. See Christensen v. Bowen

    • If you leave your car at a repair shop you are not liable if they drive the car and get into an accident.

    • The title is held for security purposes (conditional sale)

    • Where the title is only intended to be held temporarily, as where a transfer of title is in the process but not completed.

  • Generally, rental car companies are not liable for accidents that are caused by their customers. Some exceptions do apply. See Rosado v. Daimler Chrysler Fin. Serv. Trust

Bottom Line: Be very careful about who you trust to drive your car!