Florida Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine Quick Facts

Trusted Content

Legally reviewed by:

Erik Abrahamson, J.D. January 12, 2021

The Florida dangerous instrumentality doctrine, also sometimes called vicarious liability, can impact your car accident claim.

Some people mistakenly assume that letting someone else borrow their vehicle will absolve them of liability if the other person gets into an accident. However, the Florida dangerous instrumentality doctrine, says that the vehicle owner can also be liable.

If you are an accident victim, this means you may have another potential source of recovery. To learn more about how this doctrine can impact your claim, contact the Tampa car accident lawyers at Abrahamson & Uiterwyk today.

What Is the Florida Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine?

The doctrine holds the owner of a dangerous instrumentality responsible for any damage or injuries that the vehicle caused. In this situation, Florida courts have determined that vehicles qualify as dangerous instrumentalities.

In easier-to-understand terminology, Florida law says that an owner of a motor vehicle can be held liable for injuries and damages to a third party when the owner voluntarily loans their vehicle to another person.

The reasoning behind this theory is that some items, such as a motor vehicle, have the propensity to be so dangerous that public policy should not allow the legal owner to avoid any legal responsibility if an innocent person is injured by the vehicle that they permitted someone else to drive.

One of the most common examples of the Florida dangerous instrumentality doctrine is when parents purchase a vehicle for their child but retain legal ownership of it. 

The doctrine extends to all passenger vehicles, such as a car, pickup truck, SUV, van, etc. The person driving and the vehicle owner could both be responsible for economic and non-economic damages caused by the driver’s wrongful acts or negligence.

However, the doctrine does not extend to long-term lessees—those leasing the vehicle for their personal use. In this case, the liability will be limited to the lessee. That means the dealer or similar entity will not be responsible for any damages the leased vehicle causes, despite possibly holding a security interest in the vehicle.

There is one important difference between Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine and vicarious liability in other states: other states typically require proof that the owner acted negligently in giving permission.

Florida’s doctrine doesn’t have that requirement. Where the application of this doctrine becomes more confusing is when the accident occurs outside of Florida.

Florida vehicle owners could still be held liable under the doctrine, even if the accident occurs out of state. Whether this doctrine can be applied to an out-of-state accident will depend on the circumstances. If your claim involves an out-of-state accident, you should contact an experienced Tampa car accident lawyer at Abrahamson & Uiterwyk.

Exceptions to Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine

There are some instances where the doctrine will not apply.

Car Theft

The first exemption is when someone steals a car. The doctrine applies only to people who permit someone else to drive their vehicle. If the owner can show the person didn’t have permission, such as a vehicle thief, then they likely wouldn’t be held accountable.

Shop Rule

In some cases, there may be people who have permission to drive the vehicle, but the doctrine won’t apply. Examples include body shop employees, auto mechanics, or valet parking attendants. This example falls under the “shop rule.”

Under the shop rule, vehicle owners who entrust their vehicle to an auto body shop or service station will not be responsible for any negligence on behalf of the shop employees. This same exception also applies to any damage that a valet driver causes.

Rentals and Leases

Rental cars and leased vehicles also fall under the exception clause. The leasing company or rental agency keeps the vehicle title in their name, but they aren’t responsible for what the renter or lessee does while driving that vehicle. This example falls under the Grave’s Amendment.

The Graves Amendment was part of a 2005 federal highway bill that excludes rental car companies from vicarious liability for injuries caused by their customers unless someone can prove that the rental car company’s actions or negligence contributed somehow.

Recent Sale

The final exception deals with selling a vehicle. If the vehicle owner sold the car and the new buyer damaged it before changing title, the previous owner may be able to escape liability. The accident must occur before the prior owner had a reasonable amount of time to change the title.

Do You Need to Hire a Tampa Car Accident Lawyer?

Following an auto accident in Florida, you are likely wondering whether you need to hire an attorney or can handle the claim on your own. In most cases, hiring a Tampa car accident lawyer is beneficial.

If you were involved in an accident where the dangerous instrumentality doctrine in Florida applies, it’s essential to speak with an experienced injury lawyer near you before pursuing an injury claim independently. These can be complicated claims, and you want to talk to someone who has experience handling similar cases.

At Abrahamson & Uiterwyk, our attorneys have over 30 years of experience helping clients get the compensation they deserve. We have represented over 20,000 injured clients and recovered over $800 million to date.

Contact our office today to schedule an initial consultation. Let us review your case and advise you on the best legal course of action.