The Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine
Thousands of car accidents occur on Florida’s roads and highways every year. In many of these cases, the driver’s insurer will cover all injuries and financial losses caused by the accident. However, this coverage may not apply if the vehicle isn’t owned by the person who was driving at the time of the crash. Fortunately, the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine may be available to impose liability upon the car’s owner, even if he or she wasn’t present at the time of the accident. To learn more about this legal theory and whether it applies to your own accident, please contact one of our experienced car accident attorneys for advice.
Applying the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine
When a person is involved in a car accident, he or she must determine who was legally responsible for causing the crash, as the at-fault party can be required to compensate the injured party for damages. In some situations, neither driver is held responsible for the accident because it was the result of a defective car part, in which case, the manufacturer could be held liable for the victims’ injuries. In other cases, both parties may share responsibility for the crash or an accident may have clearly been the fault of one driver. When the at-fault driver is also the owner of the vehicle, collecting compensation is relatively straightforward. However, the situation becomes much more complicated when the driver is not the car’s owner or is not named on the vehicle’s liability insurance policy. Even in these cases, liability can be imposed on the car’s owner by applying the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine, because unlike many states, Florida considers vehicles to be dangerous instrumentalities. According to this legal theory, vehicle owners can be held liable for the actions of third party drivers if they gave the at-fault party permission to drive.
This doctrine is applied most often in cases where a parent allows his or her inexperienced teenager to drive the family car and an accident results. If the teen was negligent or reckless, his or her parents could be found liable.
One of the most important aspects of the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine is that the vehicle’s owner actually granted the driver permission to use the car. This means that if a car is stolen and subsequently crashed, its owner could not be forced to compensate any injured parties. Similarly, rental car companies cannot always be held liable for injuries inflicted by their vehicles. For example, in one case, a rental car became overdue, at which point the rental company sent letters demanding its return. In the meantime, a driver who wasn’t listed on the rental agreement crashed the vehicle and injured another driver. The Florida Supreme Court held that the rental car company was not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries because:
- The car was not being used with the company’s consent, as it had demanded the vehicle’s return; and
- The car was being used in violation of the rental agreement’s express terms.
However, the Court also noted that if the vehicle was still being used within the scope of the agreement and with the company’s consent, the rental agency would most likely have been held responsible for the accident victim’s injuries.
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