Is the Driver Always Legally Responsible for an Accident?
Americans tend to have a particularly close attachment to their cars, and this trait is reflected in the large presence automobiles have in U.S. culture. The tie between a car and its owner is also seen in the reluctance many car owners have to lend their vehicles for others to drive. This hesitancy makes sense from a practical standpoint, because when the owner relinquishes control, he/she runs the risk the temporary driver will get into a car accident. This increased risk may be linked to the fact that the new driver will not have a financial attachment to the car, and therefore, may not use as much caution or care. Given that car owners do retain control over who has permission to drive their cars, if an accident does occur, does the owner have any responsibility for injuries?
This question becomes even more complicated if the driver is using a rental car. Some drivers have little regard for the treatment of rental cars, and just like private car owners, rental companies do have discretion over which individuals can rent their vehicles. This issue of potential car rental company liability is particularly important when one considers how many tourists visit the state of Florida each year. In 2015, 105 million people visited the state, which is the fifth consecutive year Florida experienced an increase in tourism. All these visitors translate into many additional cars on the road that create additional opportunities for car accidents. However, the liability rules for private owners and rental car companies are not the same, and need to be understood by those in car accidents involving non-owner drivers. A discussion of the liability laws for private and corporate car owners involved in car accidents will follow below.
When a Private Owner Lends Out a Car
Cars are inherently dangerous objects that will always present a risk to drivers, passengers and other vehicles. Because of this danger, Florida has a rule about which party is liable in car accidents, known as the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. This doctrine says that in the event that someone voluntarily lends their car to another person, and this person causes a car accident due to negligence, the owner of the vehicle, not the driver, can be held legally responsible. This responsibility is transferred to the owner because the owner was negligent in giving permission to an irresponsible individual. The permission to operate the car may be express or implied, and written consent is not required. In addition, parents of teenage drivers expressly assume legal responsibility for the negligent acts of their children, and are held equally liable for any damages or injury that arises out of such negligence.
Liability of Car Rental Companies
Car rental companies, even though they have full authority to grant or deny a car to a customer, will not be liable for an accident unless the rental company itself was negligent. This exemption from liability was set down by a decision of the Florida Supreme Court that said rental companies that offer short-term leasing (less than one year) will not be liable for car accidents merely because they own the car. Proving the car rental company was overtly negligent will be difficult, but some examples of behavior that could create liability include:
- inadequate training of employees;
- inadequate supervision of workers;
- negligently renting a car to a driver that should have been denied, e., driver was visibly drunk; or
- failure to properly maintain the vehicle, e., the brakes do not function properly.
Talk to a Florida Personal Injury Lawyer
Injuries sustained in a car accident can alter a person’s life, and consulting with an experienced personal injury lawyer is key to recovering compensation for these injuries. The lawyers at the Miami law firm of Pita Weber Del Prado understand how the law works in this area, and will fight to get you the compensation you need to rebuild your life. Contact us for a free consultation.