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Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Laws

One of the most dangerous things a person can do in a day is get in their car and drive somewhere. That is because cars are by their nature dangerous. They weigh thousands of pounds and travel at high rates of speed. There are distracted drivers on the roads, drunk drivers, and negligent drivers. This is why Florida has a dangerous instrumentality law that allows the victim of a car accident to recover for his or her injuries from the owner of the vehicle, whether the owner was driving or not.

Origin of the law

As a historical matter, cars are relatively new. Since cars began to become commonplace in the early 1900s, the law had to adapt and evolve to be able to deal with the consequences of cars on public byways. Of course one of those developments involved car accidents. In 1920 the Florida Supreme Court heard a case where a company was sued after a company car was in an accident, injuring the passenger of another vehicle. In that case the court issued the rule of law that anyone (company or person) who gives permission to another to drive their car will be held liable for any injuries to other people if that car is in an accident. The reasons of the decision to implement this doctrine included the following:

  • Automobiles are inherently dangerous instrumentalities;
  • After giving permission to drive a car, the owner has the responsibility to ensure the car is driven responsibly; and
  • The cost of automobile accidents should be paid by the owners of vehicles negligently used.

This legal doctrine became known as the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. But the decision created several problems. For one, there are many scenarios where the true owner of a vehicle does not have any control over who drives it, for example, owners of leased vehicles, and parents who buy a car and give it to their child. Over the years the doctrine has changed significantly.

Modification of the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine

To clear up the many questions that arose after the implementation of the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, the Florida Supreme Court established certain elements of the doctrine. In order for the owner of a vehicle to be vicariously liable for how their car is driven, the owner must have an identifiable property interest in the vehicle. To figure out whether an owner does have such an interest there are several factors:

  • The owner actually owns and controls who drives the vehicle;
  • The owner rented the vehicle for use; and/or
  • The owner has more than a bare legal title to the car.

Answering and establishing these factors requires a fact intensive inquiry. But it is worth doing after being in a car accident. If the victim of an accident can establish that the owner is liable under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, then it is an additional source from which a victim can recover.

Every victim of every car accident deserves a thorough evaluation of their case. Florida’s auto accident laws are many and complex. As a result, victims should hire a law firm with experience in auto accident law. The attorneys at Alan Goldfarb P.A. have the necessary experience to represent victims of an auto accident in the Miami area.

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