May 3

What is the Car Owner’s Liability if Not Driving the Vehicle?


car owner's liability after car accidentCan the car owner be responsible for the injuries caused by someone else driving their vehicle even when the owner is not in the car? The answer is a resounding YES. The car owner’s liability stays with the car with just a few exceptions.

This is important to remember as we enter into high school and college graduation season with celebratory graduates getting behind the wheel of Mom & Dad’s car with a carload of other happy grads.

Under the Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine, the owner of a car is liable for any injuries caused by the car’s operation. This doctrine stems from a Florida Supreme Court case that is nearly 100 years old – Southern Cotton Oil v. Anderson, 80 Fla. 441, 469 (Fla. 1920). In the case, the company who owned the vehicle was sued after its company car caused an accident which injured the passenger of another vehicle. The Court ruled that anyone—company or person—who gives permission to another to drive their car will be held liable for any injuries to other people that vehicle causes. The doctrine remains alive and strong today.

The reasoning behind the dangerous instrumentality doctrine is the owner of anything instrument that is inherently dangerous –whether it be a car, tool or item — has both the financial and moral responsibility to ensure the car is driven responsibly and should be careful who is permitted to use the instrument.

Situations When There is No Car Owner’s Liability

There are a few situations when the car owner’s liability is negated if the vehicle causes injury to others. First, under the “Shop Rule,” the owner of a vehicle entrusted to a service station for repairs or valet is not responsible for the negligent driving of a repair shop employee r valet driver. Secondly, Car rental and car leasing companies are exempted from the car owner’s liability rule for the negligent use of the rental automobile. (Personally, I think this is wrong and rental car companies should be responsible for the renter’s negligence especially since they profit on others driving their vehicles.) Thirdly, if you sell your car and the buyer causes an accident before you have a reasonable opportunity to change ownership on the title of the vehicle, you may be able to escape responsibility.
Lastly, if your car is stolen, and then involved in an accident, you cannot be held responsible under the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine because no permission was granted.

Whether it is during graduation or anytime, if you permit your teenager to drive your car, know that you will be responsible for any injuries from a car accident caused by his or her negligence.

Drive safely and think about who you give permission to drive your car. Remember, the car owner’s liability will follow you.

About the Authors

Do You Really Need an Attorney After a Car AccidentAttorneys Matthew Noyes and Lorrie Robinson help families who are impacted by a Tampa Bay car accident. Attorney Matthew Noyes even wrote a book on it – Do You Really Need An Attorney After a Car Accident. If you have questions after a car accident, call Personal Injury Attorney Matthew Noyes at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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