Under Florida law, the owner of a vehicle is responsible for injuries caused by the negligent operation of the vehicle. This is called “vicarious” or imputed liability and had long been the law in Florida.
Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine
If you allow someone to use your car, and they negligently cause a crash with injuries, then you are equally responsible for the damages. Your insurance company will cover you for damages, as will the insurance company for the driver. This law makes sure that innocent injured parties are compensated for such negligence. An automobile is considered under this dangerous instrumentality doctrine, as are motorcycles, construction equipment, and other motorized vehicles.
Exceptions To The Rule:
There are exceptions to this rule. If a person takes your vehicle without your consent, whether or not a criminal theft, and is involved in a crash, then you may not be liable. There is much litigation over the issue of consent.
Example 1 – If you lend your vehicle to a person for a day, and they are late returning it, you may still be liable for the injuries. There are cases where a person tells a friend or relative not to take their car, and that person gets in a crash.
Example 2 – If you left the keys available for them, or had previously allowed them to use the vehicle, then there may be implied consent that makes you liable. In one case, a person left his keys readily available on a kitchen counter during a house party. When a person took the keys and got in a wreck, the court found the owner liable for failing to properly secure the keys of the “dangerous instrumentality”. Similarly, leaving your keys available to non-driving family members may impose liability. Also, under Florida law, if you leave your keys in the ignition of an unlocked vehicle, you may be liable for all damages caused to the vehicle.
Theft of Vehicle – Case Study
There are even exceptions for a true theft of a vehicle. Zarzaur Law recently litigated a case where a vehicle was stolen from a small car dealer under mysterious circumstances and was involved in a crash that injured our client. We were able to prove that the dealer did not properly secure the vehicles, had inadequate security in a high crime area, and waited many days to report the vehicle stolen. The thief also had the keys at the time of the wreck, and the dealer was unable to explain how he came in possession of the keys. By proving these unusual facts, we were able to overcome the defenses of the car dealer and obtain compensation for our injured client.
It should be noted that the law in Florida generally turns on the specific factual circumstances of the case. The law of vicarious liability is also different in our adjoining states. In many states, the owner is liable if not driving the car, and there may be no insurance coverage for compensation. As you can see, these issues are very complex.
Who To Contact
As soon as you have realized that your vehicle was stolen, inform the following:
Call the police. Inform the police of the make, model, year of your vehicle, and your license plate number. Let the police know the date, location, and time when you last saw the vehicle.
Call your insurance company. Once you give the police your report, it is time to call the insurance company to explain what has happened.
Call An Attorney. Next, you should call a board-certified accident lawyer for help in preparing a case.
If you are injured by the negligence of a driver who is not the owner, or by a driver who is a thief, then you need to consult with an experienced Florida lawyer for competent advice.
Joe Zarzaur is a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer whose firm is 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 the victim of an 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 want to make the process as easy as possible for you. Call Zarzaur Law, P.A. today at (855) Hire-Joe, or by requesting a free case review through our website.