Florida's Dangerous Instrumentality Law

Driving on the road is dangerous for a host of reasons. Of course, cars weigh thousands of pounds and travel at extremely high rates of speed. In addition, there are distracted drivers, drunk drivers, and generally negligent drivers. Today there is a robust body of law to deal with all of these dangerous situations. But that was not always the case. A hundred years ago when cars were new, the law did not have a good way to deal with all the problems that cars brought. That is why the Florida courts developed Florida's dangerous instrumentality laws to apply to motor vehicles.

Dangerous Instrumentality: Dealing with Car Accidents

Prior to the advent of motor vehicles, the dangerous instrumentality doctrine was applied to objects that posed a threat to the public. In 1920, the Florida Supreme Court decided that it was time to apply that doctrine to cars as well. In a nutshell, Florida's dangerous instrumentality doctrine states that the owner of a dangerous tool or instrument (so deemed by law) is liable for any damages that the tool causes to another. The thinking behind the doctrine is that there are some things in society that are so dangerous that the owner and users should bear the full responsibility of paying for any harm their instrument causes.

In its decision, the Supreme Court heard a case involving a company car that was in an accident, causing major damages to the victim. The court determined that beyond holding the negligent driver responsible, it was important to hold the company that owned the vehicle responsible as well. The reasons for extending this doctrine to owners of cars included:

  • The amount of damage a car can cause innocent victims; and
  • The owner's ability to determine who could drive their vehicle, and how the vehicle should be driven.

Since the court extended the dangerous instrumentality doctrine to car owners, problems began to arise. And as the years went by, the courts continued to modify the doctrine to what it is today.

Today's Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine

To successfully plead a dangerous instrumentality doctrine today, the plaintiff must do more than show ownership of the car. In fact, there are many situations today where an owner of a car will not be held liable under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. For example, when a car is leased by a company to a lessee, the actual title owner will not be held liable for accidents because they don't have any control over how or when the lessee drives the car. The elements used to determine whether a car owner will be held liable under the dangerous instrumentality law include:

  • The owner is the one who has reasonable control over who drives the car and how.
  • The owner has rented the vehicle to another so it can be used.
  • The ownership has more than bare title ownership.

Making this determination should be handled by competent, professional attorneys. An experienced accident attorney is any accident victim's best option for determining whether Florida's dangerous instrumentality doctrine applies or not. The Pittman Firm is prepared to evaluate your case and give you a solid estimation of where you stand under the law.

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