This law is called the dangerous instrumentality doctrine.
A person whose name is on the certificate of title as an owner or co-owner is a beneficial owner with the right to control the vehicle. Christensen v. Bowen, 140 So. 3d 498 – Fla: Supreme Court 2014.
Absent a conditional sales agreement, the circumstances where an entity or individual who possessed legal title would not be vicariously liable under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine are extremely limited. See Aurbach v. Gallina, 753 So.2d 60, 64 (Fla.2000); Metzel v. Robinson, 102 So.2d 385, 385-86 (Fla.1958).
The injured person may be able to get the following damages from the owner and driver of the car that caused the accident:
- Past Lost Income
- Future lost income reduced to present value
- Medical expenses
- Replacement value of lost personal property (e.g. damage to your car, etc.)
- Funeral expenses
- Reimbursement for mileage to and from medical appointments
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life.
If you understand how to get your medical bills paid after a car accident in Florida, you know that Personal Injury Protection (PIP) would pay some of your medical expenses and lost wages. In order to get damages #6-10 above, you would generally need to prove that you exceed the tort threshold, which usually consists of having a permanent injury.
There are exceptions to having to prove a permanent injury. Some of these exceptions are if you are involved in a taxi accident, bus accident, motorcycle accident, and other situations. In order to have case against a car owner if he or she let someone driver his or her car, 3 things have to happen:
- The owner voluntarily lets someone use his or her car.
- The driver negligently (carelessly) operates it.
- You suffer damage (car damage, physical injury, etc.).
This law applies to many more types of vehicles than just a car. It also applies to trucks, buses, tow trucks, golf carts, cranes and construction lifts. Now, you can have the best case in the world but in order to get money of your injuries someone has to be able to pay it.
If the owner and driver of the car that caused your accident is uninsured or does not have enough bodily injury (“BI”) liability insurance, you want to look for other potential defendants to make a claim against.
Ok…let’s go back to the main point of this article, which is determining whether you have a claim against someone who has an identifiable property interest in a vehicle who entrusts that vehicle to an another whose negligent operation causes owns a car and lends their car out.
Assume that Ben gives the keys to his car to Bob. Bob runs a red light and hits Mike. Mike’s car is damaged and he is injured (has a broken wrist).
Mike has a personal injury case against both Ben and Bob. Mike should know the settlement value of a broken (fractured) wrist in Florida so that he does not get short-changed by Ben’s or Bob’s auto bodily injury liability auto insurer.
The same result would apply if Bob was driving any of the vehicles listed above (a bus, truck, etc.). You should always look at the Florida crash report as you may notice that the owner of the car that hit you is different from the driver. You may be dealing with more than one insurance company that can pay your claim.
I want to show you some more categories and examples.
Owner Isn’t Liable For Injuries Suffered By a Bailee
An owner is not liable under the “dangerous instrumentality doctrine” for injuries suffered by a bailee. A bailee is the person to whom the vehicle is entrusted (given to). Toombs v. Alamo Rent-A-Car, Inc., 833 So. 2d 109 (Fla.2002); Enterprise Leasing Co. v. Almon, 559 So. 2d 214 (Fla. 1990); Raydel, Limited v. Medcalfe, 178 So. 2d 1085 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987); State Farm Mutl. Auto. Ins. Co. v Clauson, 511 So. 2d 1085 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987); Devlin v. Florida Rent-A-Car, INc., 454 So. 2d 787 9Fla. 5th DCA 1984).
Ben gives the keys to his car to Bob. Bob runs a red light and hits another driver. Bob is injured. Bob cannot make a claim against Ben under this law – the dangerous instrumentality doctrine.
The same would apply if Ben gave Bob any of the vehicles listed above (a bus, truck, etc.). However, if Bob can show that Ben did something negligent (careless) that caused Bob’s accident, then Bob may have a case.
An example of Ben’s possible negligence could be if there wasn’t enough tread on the tires and Bob couldn’t stop in time to avoid the crash, then Bob may have a claim against Ben for his injuries.
Owner of a car is not liable for injuries to a sub-bailee
The owner of a car is not liable for injuries to a sub-bailee. A sub-bailee is a person who is given permission to drive the vehicle by the bailee.
Example – Owner of a car is not liable for injuries to a sub-bailee
Ben gives the keys to his car to Bob. Bob lets Sandra driver the car. Sandra is driving carelessly and hits another car. Ben is not liable for Sandra’s injuries just because Ben is the owner of the car.
However, if Sandra can show that Ben’s negligence caused Sandra’s injury then Sandra may have a personal injury claim against Ben for her injury.
An example of Ben’s negligence could be if Ben failed to maintain his car (e.g. lack of tread from not replacing the tires, etc.) and this preventing Sandra from not being able to stop in time and avoid the crash.
Bailee is hurt while a passenger of owner’s vehicle; sub-bailee is driving at the time of the crash
If a bailee lends the owner’s car to someone, and the bailee is a passenger of the car at the time of the accident, then the owner is not liable for injuries to the bailee.
Example – Bailee injured while passenger of owner’s vehicle; sub-bailee is driving at the time of the accident
Ben gives the keys to his car to Bob in Miami or any city in Florida. Bob then lets Sandra drive the car and Bob is a passenger in the car. Sandra is driving carelessly and hits another car.
Bob is injured. Ben is not liable Bob’s injuries just because Ben is the owner of the car.
However, if Bob can show that Ben did something negligent (careless), such as there was not enough tread on the tires and Sandra could not stop in time to avoid the crash, then Bob may have a claim against Ben for his injuries.
Bailee injured while passenger of Rental car company’s vehicle; sub-bailee is driving at the time of the accident
Take the facts from the example above, except assume that a rental car company rented a car to Bob. The rental car company is not liable to Bob if he was a passenger in a car that crashed while being carelessly driven by Sandra.
However, if the rental car company’s failure to reasonably maintain the car caused the crash, the rental car company may be liable for Bob’s injuries.
Bob also has a personal injury claim against the driver, Sandra.
Are there limits to the liability of a “natural person” who owns a car in Florida?
Under Florida Statute 324.021(9)(b)3, when the owner of a motor vehicle who is a natural person lends a motor vehicle to a permissive user, the owner’s liability is only up to $100,000 per person and up to $300,000 per incident for bodily injury and up to $50,000 for property damage.
If the permissive user of the motor vehicle is uninsured or has any insurance with limits less than $500,000 combined property damage and bodily injury liability, the owner shall be liable for up to an additional $500,000 in economic damages only arising out of the use of the motor vehicle.
The additional specified liability of the owner for economic damages shall be reduced by amounts actually recovered from the permissive user and from any insurance or self-insurance covering the permissive user. There is no limit on the liability of the owner for his or her own negligence.
Tip: A natural person is a real human being, as opposed to a legal person, which may be a private (i.e., business entity or non-governmental organization) or public (i.e., government) organization.
Example of Liability Limit for Owner of Motor Vehicle Who is a natural person and lends it to a user
In Dustin C. Brink sued Juan Ruiz De Los Santos and Juan L. Ruiz Pereles.
A motor vehicle owner let someone use his vehicle. The driver collided with a motorcycle rider. The jury found the motor vehicle driver negligent.
The owner did nothing wrong. The owner’s liability was solely vicarious.
The jury found the motorcyclist comparative negligent. After factoring in the motorcyclist’s fault and collateral source setoffs, the judge awarded the motorcycle rider $12,832,837.17.
Since the owner was a natural person who loaned his car, the owner’s liability was limited to $600,000. Learn more about the Brink case, where the Florida Court said that a motor vehicle owner was only liable for $600,000 for a motorcyclist’s brain injuries.
Commercial activity in the owner’s ordinary course of business
There is no limit on the liability of an owner of a motor vehicle that is used for commercial activity in the owner’s ordinary course of business, except a company that meets the definition of “rental company” as defined by the statute.
Someone Who Was Driving a Rental Car Caused Your Injury
If someone was driving a rental car and negligently caused your injury, you can sue the driver. The rental car company is likely entitled to the Graves Amendment Defense, which limits the rental car company’s liability.
Who Is Liable if Someone Was Driving a Complimentary Service Loaner from a Car Dealership and Caused Your Injury?
If someone was driving a complimentary service loaner vehicle from a dealership and negligently caused your injury, you can sue the driver. You may also want to make a claim against the car dealership.
Since many cars in Florida aren’t required to carry BI liability insurance, the claim against the dealership can give you additional insurance coverage that may pay your claim.
Your argument is that the dealership is liable because is that:
- The dealership didn’t rent or lease the complimentary service loaner vehicle that the at fault driver was driving.
- The dealership is not in the business of renting and leasing complimentary service loaners.
- The dealership is not entitled to the protections of the Graves Amendment for its complimentary service loaners as a matter of law.
I’m aware of a few cases that have discussed this.
Jacksonville, Florida Court Allows Injured Person to Sue Car Dealership When Driver of Loaner Car Allegedly Caused the Crash
This isn’t my case. Daphne Blyler was injured in a car accident. She claimed that someone driving a loaner from a car dealership caused her injuries.
The defendant, Nimnicht Chevrolet Company, tried to get Daphne’s case dismissed by arguing that the dealership’s loaner car was a lease or rental. The court refused to dismiss the case. Daphne’s lawsuit was allowed to continue.
The court used two other past cases as justification for why the case shouldn’t be dismissed. These cases were See Zizersky v. Life Quality Motor Sales, Inc., 866 N.Y.S.2d 501, 507 (2008) (holding that there is no lease or rental for a loaner car for purposes of the Graves Amendment); Calhoun v. Randle, 2014 WL 9866791, *2 (Fla. 11th Jud. Cir. 2014) (same).
Fort Lauderdale Court Says Injured Person Can Sue Car Dealership for Accident Allegedly Caused by Someone Driving a Loaner Car
A Fort Lauderdale, Florida car dealership wasn’t entitled to the protections of the Graves Amendment for its complimentary service loaners.
On August 19, 2013, a Palm Beach County, Florida trial court opinion was issued in the case of Lawrence Lindsay and Leighann Lindsay v. Holman Automotive, Inc. (DBA Lauderdale BMW of Ft. Lauderdale) and Sandra Cornett. Case No. 50 2010 CA 030231.
The judge was Janice Brustares Keyser. It isn’t my case.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2013 and has been completely revamped and updated.