What is Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine?

The driver’s insurance coverage is available to compensate them for injuries and financial losses which are incurred as a result of the accident. But what happens when the vehicle isn’t owned by the person driving it?

Matthew Dolman
February 05, 2018

Many accidents occur on the roads of Florida every day. For many of these accident victims, the driver’s insurance coverage is available to compensate them for injuries and financial losses which are incurred as a result of the accident. But what happens when the vehicle isn’t owned by the person driving it? What about drivers who cause accidents in rental vehicles, or work vehicles, or even stolen vehicles? In such cases, the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine may be available to impose liability upon the owner of the vehicle. The experienced auto accident attorneys at the Dolman Law Group can help accident victims overcome such legal challenges to their personal injury claims.

 

How Does the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine Work?

After an accident – whether an auto accident, a slip and fall due to dangerous conditions on a landowner’s property, medical malpractice, or other injuries – the injury victim must determine who was legally responsible (“liable”) for causing his or her injuries. This is because the person who is liable for the injuries also has a legal obligation to compensate the victim for those injuries. There are many different individuals and companies who can be held responsible for an accident. If, for example, an auto manufacturer negligently sells vehicles with dangerous defects which cause accidents, the manufacturer might be liable for all injuries which result from an accident. In such a case, it is possible for neither involved driver to be assigned any portion of the liability.

In certain cases, liability may be imposed upon the person who granted permission to use a dangerous item which ultimately injured the victim. This is known as the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine. If, for example, a parent allows an inexperienced teenage driver to use the family vehicle, the parent can be found liable for an accident which occurs due to the teen’s negligence. Or if a construction worker injures a co-worker with a piece of heavy machinery, the employer can be liable for allowing the worker to negligently operate the dangerous equipment. The Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine is often invoked in auto accident cases in which the driver who negligently caused the accident is not the owner of the vehicle, and not named on the vehicle’s liability insurance policy. In such a case, the owner of the vehicle can be liable for allowing the driver to use his or her vehicle. This doctrine can also extend to vehicle rental companies which rent vehicles to negligent drivers.

 

What if the Car is Stolen?

A key aspect of the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine is that the defendant actually did grant permission to use the vehicle. Thus, if a car is stolen and crashed, the owner cannot be liable for damage caused by the car thief. The Florida Supreme Court examined this rule further as it applies to rental cars. (See Hertz Corp. v. Jackson, 617 So. 2d 1051, Supreme Court of Florida, 1993.) In the Hertz case, the rented vehicle became overdue, and Hertz sent certified letters to the renters to demand the return of the vehicle. In the meantime, a driver not listed on the rental agreement ran a stop sign and injured the plaintiff. The Supreme Court held that the car was no longer being used with the consent of the owner, because the rental company had demanded its return, and it was being used in violation of the express terms of the rental agreement. Hertz was not, therefore, liable for the injuries caused by the unknown driver. If, however, the vehicle was still being used in the scope of the rental agreement and with the consent of Hertz, it is likely that the rental agency would have been liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

This principle can apply to other dangerous instrumentalities, as well. Consider the example of the heavy machinery on a construction site. If a trespasser broke onto the site and used the equipment without permission, the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine would likely not apply. The construction company might face liability for failing to take reasonable measures to prevent unauthorized use of its equipment, but this is separate from the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine. A court’s focus on this particular theory of liability is whether the defendant granted consent to the use of the dangerous object.

 

What is a Dangerous Instrumentality?

Most states do not consider a vehicle to be a dangerous instrumentality. Florida is an outlier in this respect, as the state Supreme Court extended the designation to vehicles in a 1920 opinion. (See Southern Cotton Oil Co. v. Anderson, 86 So. 629, 631.) But an automobile is not the only object which can be considered a dangerous instrumentality. This definition can be applied to almost any object which is inherently hazardous or has a likelihood to cause injury through its negligent use. Firearms are a common example. Guns carry a very high risk of injury, and owners are often found liable for negligently entrusting them to the use of another. Heavy machinery and dangerous equipment can also carry a high risk of injury. Many household appliances also have the potential to meet the criteria of a dangerous instrumentality.

Parents can also find themselves at an increased risk of liability for the actions of their children. Because minor children are not always old enough or mature enough to appreciate the risk of dangerous which certain items carry, parents have a heightened obligation not to entrust their children with the use of dangerous objects. In Florida, boating is a common activity, but it carries the potential to impose liability upon parents for the action of their child. Even if a teenager has been boating for years, he or she may still be unable to safely operate a watercraft.

 

Experienced Representation for Your Personal Injury Claim

After an accident caused by a dangerous instrumentality, contact the Dolman Law Group as soon as possible in order to ensure that your legal rights are protected. Whether you have been injured in a slip, trip, or fall, we will aggressively protect your right to be compensated for your injuries. Schedule your free consultation with an experienced Clearwater personal injury attorney at Attornify. Our personalized service, highly-skilled attorneys, and friendly staff will ease the burden after an accident so that injury victims can focus on their recoveries.

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The foremost goal at Dolman Law Group is to provide accessible client communications to our existing client base. All clients are provided the cellphone number and email address for their handling attorney. This facilitates communications and ongoing dialogue between the client and legal counsel. ...

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