Most non-specialists have never heard of the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine outlined by Florida Law. When car accidents take place, it is typically the at-fault person behind the wheel who is held responsible. In most crashes, the driver is the one who owns the vehicle, so it is easier to establish liability. A Fort Lauderdale car accident lawyer can help you recover compensatory damages if you suffer a crash in Fort Lauderdale.
However, it is also possible to hold another person responsible for the actions of an at-fault driver. This is typically the case when one person owns the vehicle but another borrows it to drive. If the borrower then ends up crashing the vehicle, the owner can be held liable. This is possible under Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine, also known as DID.
What Is the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine?
This doctrine applies to tools that can be deemed as inherently dangerous. You may think that a car may not be regarded as such a tool. However, numerous court rulings over the year have established vehicles to be categorized as dangerous tools. Specifically, a 1920 Florida Supreme Court decision in Southern Cotton Oil v. Anderson confirmed that a vehicle can be deemed as a dangerous tool due to the inherent danger and risk it poses.
As per the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine, the owner of an inherently dangerous tool can be held responsible for any injuries that are caused by that tool. This applies even when the owner is not the one using or operating the tool. In other words, an owner may be held vicariously liable for a car crash even when someone else is using the car.
When Does the Doctrine Apply?
The Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine may apply to many car crash cases but it isn’t relevant in all crashes. The basic requirement to hold an owner vicariously responsible for a vehicle is to show that the owner has an identifiable property interest in the vehicle.
A quick and easy way of doing this is to look up the title of the vehicle. The owner whose name is on the Certificate of Title at the time of the crash can be held liable under DID. However, there are many notable exceptions to the doctrine.
Exceptions to the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine
Under the Florida laws and court decisions of the past, several notable exceptions to DID exist. These exceptions are meant to safeguard owners and entities when they are not responsible. The exceptions include:
Rental and Leased Vehicles
When a person operates a rental or leased vehicle, the title of the vehicle remains in the name of the rental or lease company. In such a case, if the driver runs into an accident, the company is shielded from any liability.
For DID to become relevant, it must be shown that the other person operating the vehicle had your permission to do so. This is why the doctrine does not apply to stolen vehicles. If your vehicle is stolen and then ends up being involved in an accident, you can’t be held liable vicariously.
If you hand over your vehicle to a service station or a valet service, you no longer have direct possession of the vehicle. However, the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine does not apply if the vehicle is involved in the accident after you had handed it over and before you received it back.
Suppose you have sold your vehicle and the new owner is now operating it. You and the new owner couldn’t yet get around to having the title ownership changed. If the new owner causes a crash around this time, you can prove that you had sold the vehicle and escape vicarious liability.
When you are a plaintiff in a car crash case, vicarious liability can be an immensely important option. If the driver who caused the crash does not have sufficient insurance, vicarious liability may allow you to recoup compensatory damages from the owner.
Why Hire a Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Lawyer?
If you have suffered a car crash in Fort Lauderdale, we can help you recover a fair amount of compensation. Here at Englander Peebles, our lawyers are experienced in using the dangerous instrumentality doctrine and other legal options.
We can work with you to unearth the title deed of the vehicle and see if the owner, besides the driver, can also be held liable for damages. At the end of the day, we aim to ensure that all your losses are covered. Call us today to discuss your FL car accident claim with our lawyers.