Florida Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine

Florida Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine

Letting just anyone borrow your car can actually get you into trouble in Florida. The reason for this is that you can be held liable if the car is involved in an accident even if you were not the one driving it.

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This is because of Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine or DID. It is a common law doctrine that provides that “the owner of an inherently dangerous tool is liable for any injuries caused by that tool’s operation.”  

The doctrine was specifically for people that operated inherently dangerous tools, but in 1920 the Florida Supreme Court, in the Cotton Oil v. Anderson case, extended the doctrine to motor vehicle operation.

Many people in Florida and those who visit Florida have no idea that this law even exists, but it can affect them irrespective of the type of vehicle they let someone borrow. That includes anything from your car to even your golf cart.  The law is also still applied to the use of real tools that are inherently dangerous.

What Makes A Person Liable

Only people that have an identifiable interest in a vehicle can be held liable under DID.  This can be done by identifying the person that is listed on the title of the vehicle. What this implies is that you should be careful whose name you place as the owner of a vehicle on the vehicle’s Certificate of Title.   This means that if you lend a car to a friend and that friend runs a red light, you and anyone listed on the title are at fault. Your friend will also be considered at fault in that scenario.

Limits OF Liability

Under section 324.021(9) (b) (3) of the Florida statues, the law limits the motor vehicle owner’s liability under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine to $100,000. However, if there was bodily injury in the accident, it can rise up to $300,000 per incident. You may be forced to pay $50,000 for property damage and up to $500,000 if the person you lent your vehicle does not have insurance, or is underinsured. 

There Are Exceptions To DID

The main exceptions to the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine include:

  1. Stolen vehicles: if a person steals your vehicle and is involved in an accident,  you cannot be held liable because you did not give permission for that person to use your vehicle
  2. Shop rule: The owner of a car that got involved in an accident when it was still in the hands of service station attendants or a valet cannot be held liable for that accident. 
  3. Sold cars: If you sell your car but have not changed ownership on the title, you may not be held liable if the car’s new owner gets involved in an accident.
  4. Leased or rented cars:  The name or the car leasing or renting company is in the vehicle’s title. However,  the leasing company cannot be held liable if the person who leased that car is involved in an accident because of that person’s negligence. 

You will need the services of an experienced DID lawyer, if the car you lent out is involved in an accident.