Who Is Responsible?
We have all lent our car to a family member of friend at some point in the past. Maybe your sister’s car is in the shop or your neighbor needs to borrow your truck to pick up his new grill. You hand over the keys and a few minutes later you get a call that they were involved in an car accident and it was their fault. Once you learn everyone appears to be ok, you call your auto insurance company and report the claim. In a few days, you car or truck is repaired and you don’t think about it again until a year or so later when you are served with a Complaint because the person your sister or friend hit in the car accident is suing YOU. You ask yourself why am I being sued? I wasn’t driving! I did nothing wrong!
Car Accident Law
In Florida, we have a long standing legal principle called the “Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine” which essentially makes the owner of a motor vehicle liable for any negligent operation by a permissive user. So, if you gave your sister or neighbor permission to drive your car or truck and in doing so they were negligent and caused the car accident, you are also liable. The idea is that a motor vehicle is a dangerous instrument and when you allow someone else to operate your vehicle, you are responsible for its use. The principle is intended to protect the person that was injured because the owner of the vehicle would be in the position to obtain insurance for the motor vehicle.
There are exceptions to the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine. Obviously, if your vehicle is stolen, you are not responsible. However, the degree of permission granted is not always clear and Florida courts have found an owner responsible for damages caused when one permissive user lends the vehicle to another without the owner’s knowledge. There are clearly many other aspects and legal issues which can impact the owner’s responsibility and you should always speak with a Florida Personal Injury Attorney with questions about your specific situation.