Vehicle Owners Are Financially Responsible For The Negligent Operation Of Their Vehicles.

A. The Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine – Am I liable if my teen driver, nanny, or other person causes an accident using my car?

Florida Law holds vehicle owners financially responsible for any damages caused by the negligent operation of their vehicle. This principle is known as the “Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine” which later has been codified into law via Florida Statue 324.021. It doesn’t matter whether you were in the vehicle at the time of the incident, or your teen is a straight-A student who usually follows all the traffic rules. Simply put, you are financially responsible for any damages caused by your child, nanny, or other driver while they are operating your vehicle.

B. How Do I Protect Myself Against A Lawsuit If Someone Else Causes A Car Accident Using My Vehicle?

Car Policy

1. Get A Bigger Auto Insurance Policy & Consider An Umbrella

The Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine has liability caps, meaning the vehicle owner is NOT on the hook for an unlimited amount of money. Therefore, if you get insurance to match the liability caps you can rest assured no one will breach your insurance policy to pursue your personal assets. Per Florida Statute 324.021 section (b)(3) vehicle owner’s liability is typically capped at $600,000. So if you have an insurance policy greater than $600,000, in most circumstances, you are well protected if someone else negligently operates your motor vehicle.

2. Get The Car Out Of Your Name

The easiest way to shield yourself from liability from the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine is to get the car out of your name. As a prudent Personal Injury Attorney, I make it a habit to have my wife sign for her car and I sign for my own car. Our children are not near driving age yet, but when the time comes, we will think long and hard about co-signing for their vehicles. If you already purchased a car for someone else, you can usually gift it to the other person to avoid transfer taxes and re-register it in someone else’s name.

3. Co-Signers Should Execute Non-Beneficial Ownership Agreement

Some Florida Courts have delved deep into the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine and explored the concept of “beneficial ownership.” Specifically, in Aurbach v. Gallina, a Florida 4th District Court of Appeal Case from 2000, noted it would be possible (depending on the jury’s decision) to shield a co-signer from liability if they had had no authority to control the vehicle. The facts of the case are overly nuanced for this article, but the takeaway is, in the event you must cosign for someone else’s vehicle, it is a good idea to draft a separate document explicitly stating that as the co-signer you have no right to operate, control, sell, borrow, rent or exercise any dominion, at all, over the vehicle. This document “may” help you in the event you are sued.

C. Exceptions To The Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine.

There are several exceptions to the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, which are explored below in more detail.

1. Permissive Use

Car Accident

A vehicle owner is not liable for damages caused by the negligent operation of their vehicle if the driver took the vehicle without the owner’s permission or consent. This usually applies in cases such as theft. This is not the best argument if your son or daughter takes your car for a joy ride on the weekend and causes a crash (making this type of argument may jeopardize insurance coverage, cause other legal issues down the road and you may still be liable for a separate claim known as negligent entrustment).

2. Bare Naked Title

It is not uncommon for someone to sell their vehicle and then that vehicle ends up in a car accident before the transfer paperwork at the DMV was completed. In this circumstance, even though the vehicle may be registered under the former owner’s name, the former owner is not liable for the negligent operation of the vehicle. This situation is referred to as a “Bare Naked Title” exception.

3. Shop Exception

If an automotive repairman crashes a vehicle while taking it for a test drive, the vehicle owner is typically not responsible so long as they tendered control and custody of the vehicle to the shop.

4. Dealer Temporary Replacement Vehicle

Car dealerships (and car rental facilities) are able to loan their vehicles to customers without worrying about the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine.

The Personal Injury & Car Accident Team at the Green Injury Law Firm knows the nuances regarding the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. If you have been injured in an auto accident, please give us a call, and we can help you explore all responsible parties, including the vehicle driver and owner.


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