When Is a Florida Car Owner Liable for an Auto Accident?


Since the 1920s, Florida courts have applied a “dangerous instrumentality doctrine” when assessing liability for auto accidents. Basically, this doctrine holds that the owner of any motor vehicle is vicariously liable if they “voluntarily entrust” said vehicle to a person “whose negligent operation causes damage to another.” The idea behind this rule, as the Florida Supreme Court has explained, is that “the one who originates the danger by entrusting the automobile to another is in the best position to make certain that there will be adequate resources” to pay for any damages arising from the vehicle’s negligent use, even if the owner is not actually operating the car at the time.

Judge Says UPS Can Stand Trial Over Fatal Jacksonville Accident

There are some exceptions to the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. One is known as the “shop exception,” which applies when the owner of a vehicle entrusts his or her vehicle to a “repairman or serviceman.” In other words, if you take your car to the shop for repairs, and while the vehicle is in the shop’s custody one of its employees gets into an accident, you will not be held liable. This exception only applies, according to the Supreme Court, if the owner “does not exercise control over the injury-causing operation of the vehicle during the servicing, service-related testing, or transport of the vehicle, and is otherwise not negligent.”

Recently a federal judge in Jacksonville rejected a defendant’s effort to invoke the shop exception in an ongoing car accident case. The underlying accident took place in 2013, when a UPS package car struck another car while driving on Interstate 90. The other car “careened off the road and crashed into a tree,” according to court records, which killed a married couple and injured their grandson.

The estates of the deceased and the parents of the minor child sued a number of parties for wrongful death and personal injury, including UPS as the owner of the vehicle that caused the accident. UPS moved for summary judgment, arguing that at the time of the accident, the package car was driven by an independent contractor hired to deliver the vehicle from its manufacturer to UPS. In fact, the driver was actually sub-contracted by another contractor hired by UPS, which maintained it had no control over the driver’s actions.

But as the judge explained in an order denying UPS summary judgment, this is exactly the scenario contemplated by the Florida Supreme Court in creating the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. Ultimately, the subcontractor operating the vehicle was a “permissive user,” and that meant that UPS could be held liable for her negligent operation of the package car. The shop exception only applies to “servicing or repairing the motor vehicle itself,” not delivery from the manufacturer, as is the case here. Indeed, the judge noted that UPS–a package delivery company–could have had one of its own drivers deliver the car, and the subcontractor was therefore providing a service for the convenience of UPS.

Have You Been Injured in a Florida Car Accident?

If you are seriously injured in an auto accident, Florida law allows you to seek compensation from the owner of the vehicle responsible for the accident. An experienced Clearwater auto accident attorney can help you fight for your rights. Contact the Law Office of Paul B. Genet, P.A., if you need to speak with someone today.



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