As the owner of a vehicle, you should be aware that you can be liable for a car accident, even if you are not the one driving.
Adult Child On Your Insurance Policy
Let’s say you purchase a car for your 21-year-old son and they live with you. The title and insurance are under your name, and you are concerned that if the son gets into an accident, you will be liable. What should you do?
If your son is on your insurance policy, you can be held liable for the damages he causes. You can put him on his own policy, but the rates will very likely be higher. However, you would not be liable for the damages he causes. If you decide to put him on his own policy, make sure your insurance company excludes him as a driver, so you no longer have to pay for him as a driver on your policy. When you exclude him, he will not be covered to drive any cars on your policy.
Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine
As some of you may or may not know, Florida has a law called the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine that makes the title owner of a vehicle liable for injuries or damages caused to a third party by anyone who has the authority to drive the car.
One of the most common examples of the Florida dangerous instrumentality doctrine is when parents purchase a vehicle for their child but retain legal ownership of it.
In the vast majority of cases, the cars driven by teenage or young adult drivers are actually owned by the driver’s parents. In this case, the wreck implicates the parents’ insurance policy, even though the parent was not the one driving the vehicle. Lawyers refer to this liability as “vicarious liability,” meaning that the owner of the vehicle is liable despite the fact that the owner did not cause the crash.
Burden of Proof
The only viable defense against a vicarious liability claim involving a dangerous instrumentality is that the person driving the car never had permission to drive the car. This issue is very rare and usually arises when the driver is a car thief. The burden to prove this defense is on the owner, and the rare successful defenses usually involve situations where the owner has made a police report prior to the wreck.
Because Florida is a no-fault state, anyone who is involved in an accident must first look to the vehicle owner’s personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage, regardless of who was at fault.
However, if your damages exceed the vehicle owner’s PIP limits, you can potentially seek compensation from the at-fault party’s insurer.
Depending on the extent of your losses, you could be eligible to recover compensation for your medical treatment and care, lost income, pain and suffering, etc.
Exceptions to the Florida Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine
1. The shop rule
2. Rental cars
3. Stolen vehicle
4. Sale of your vehicle
So, the moral of this story is that if you are listed as co-owner of any Florida motor vehicle, please understand that you can be held responsible for any injuries caused by any driver of that car, even if you do not personally give permission to the driver. So long as the driver gets permission from any owner and an accident occurs, all persons appearing on the title are potentially liable for damages.
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What Should You Do If You Are In A Florida Car Accident?
1. Call the police and file a report.
2. Swap information (including any insurance information they may have).
3. Gather details.
4. Take pictures/video
5. Gather the contact information of any witnesses.
6. Seek medical care immediately for any injuries, no matter how minor you think they might be.
GET MORE HELPFUL INFORMATION ON WHAT TO DO AFTER AN ACCIDENT HERE AT OUR “CAR WRECK CHECKLIST” >
Joe Zarzaur is a Board Certified Civil Trial Attorney whose firm has been dedicated to promoting community safety since 2007. ZARZAUR LAW’S AREAS OF PRACTICE: Serious Personal Injury, Product Defect, Auto Accidents, Cycling Accidents, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Products Liability, Wrongful Death, Community Safety, Boat and Jet Ski Accidents, Slip and Fall Injuries, and more. Licensed in Alabama and Florida.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, it’s important that you don’t make any rash decisions. Put yourself in the best possible position to receive the justice you deserve. It is also important to consult with a Board-Certified Trial Lawyer who has the knowledge and experience to help you. We know accidents can be stressful, and we want to make the process as easy as possible for you.
Call Zarzaur Law, P.A. today at (855) Hire-Joe for a free legal consultation or visit www.zarzaurlaw.com.