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Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine

The person who causes a car accident is not always the only person who may be liable for the accident.  Under various theories, the law shifts the burden of the cost of an accident from a person injured in the accident to any party that may have played a part in bringing about the accident.  One way in which a driver can receive compensation for injuries sustained in an accident from someone other than the driver is through the dangerous instrumentality doctrine.

Florida law considers cars and certain other vehicles, such as tractors, dangerous instrumentalities.  Under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, Florida courts impose vicarious liability to a person who voluntarily allows another person to operate a car, and the person subsequently causes an accident through their negligent actions.  Consent to operate the car can be express or implied, and it does not have to be in writing to be valid.

Generally, this doctrine applies to find a car owner liable for an accident, however, it is not limited to car ownership, and a person who rents or leases a car and then allows another person to operate it can be just as liable.  A person’s use and ownership of the car can play a big role in determining liability.  Courts recognize a beneficial ownership exception to the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, which can protect some title holders from liability. This exception mostly applies in situations where a car is sold and title hasn’t yet changed at the time of the accident.  However, if a person holds title jointly with another person and leaves the car in the custody of the joint owner, never using it, Florida courts have found that the exception would not apply and both owners could be found liable.

Note that in regards to long-term leased vehicles, the person leasing the car would likely be the one held liable under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, not the leasing company.  Nevertheless, leasing companies may ask to be added on a lessee’s insurance to ensure they are covered in case of an accident by a third party.

Parents can be affected by this doctrine when they buy cars for teenagers and title them in both the parent and the child’s name.  Even if the child has access to the keys and can drive the car without seeking permission each time, the parent would still be considered the vehicle’s owner, and can be sued if the teenager gets into an accident.  However, even if this doctrine did not apply in a parental situation, parents may still be liable for any accidents caused by their child if they signed an application for a driver’s license for a child under the age of 18.

Contact An Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

If you were involved in a car accident as a result of another driver’s negligent driving, you should also consult with an experienced personal injury attorney to ensure that you get the compensation you need from all responsible parties.  Contact the experienced Jacksonville, Florida and Brunswick, Georgia personal injury attorneys at Gillette Law, P.A. and let us assist you with your case.

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