Own a car in Florida? You can be liable.....
A lot of people are under the impression that lending your car to someone else, letting someone drive your car, or putting your name on the title for a car for someone else somehow relinquishes you from liability in the event of an accident.
You may ask, “If I wasn’t physically driving the car, how could it be my fault?" You may think, “I just bought the car for a person in my family, it’s completely his/her responsibility." In Florida, the law is that the owner of a vehicle can be held liable for damages in the event of an accident, even if that owner had nothing to do with the accident other then lend the driver the car.
The state of Florida has what is called the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, which states, in part that Florida, “imposes strict viacrious liability upon the owner of a motor vehicle who voluntarily entrusts that motor vehicle to an individual whose negligent operation causes damge to another." In other words, if you lend your car, or let someone drive your car and they hurt someone else while driving, YOU and the driver will be liable for that accident.
In determining who is vicariously liable under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, the Florida Supreme Court “repeatedly has required that the person held vicariously liable has an identifiable property interest in the vehicle, such as ownership, rental, or lease of a vehicle."
So, if you have a property interest in a vehicle, you need to exhibit extreme caution on who you allow to drive your vehicle. In no way is your responsibility as the owner of the vehicle relinquished in regards to liability just because you are not the one physically behind the wheel of the car.
Similarly, if you are injured in an accident, it is important that you find out the relevant information about the vehicle that you were injured by. If you find that the person driving was not the person who owns the vehicle, you will have an opportunity to obtain damages from both the person driving and the owner of the vehicle.
The dangerous instrumentality doctrine is intended to hold owner’s liable for their vehicle’s misuse. As a car owner, you are responsible for making sure that the vehicle is only being used by people with permission, and that those people are driving your vehicle in a safe and prudent manner.
The common misconception that if someone else is driving, they are the only person responsible for an accident can be financially crippling. It is vital to stay informed and educated on Florida law to protect yourself in the event of an accident.
If you have been injured in an automobile accident, do not hesitate to call our office for a FREE consultation. We will do all the leg work as to finding out who can be held responsible for your injuries.