Court Approves Jury Instruction On Exception To Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine

The dangerous instrumentality doctrine is unique to the State of Florida. Under this doctrine, the owner of a motor vehicle is vicariously liable for damages caused by a permissive user of the vehicle.

We have handled cases where the owner denies that the user had permission to operate the vehicle. It is difficult to obtain a summary judgment in favor of the owner unless there is no question that the user had stolen the vehicle. If the driver or the plaintiff disputes that the vehicle was stolen, then the liability of the owner becomes a question of fact under the unique circumstances of each case.

Recently, a Florida appellate court approved a jury instruction for use in cases where there is a question of fact as to whether the vehicle was being operated beyond the owner’s scope of consent. Over the plaintiff’s objection, the trial court instructed the jury, in part, as follows:

"Some of the factors that you may consider in determining whether there is evidence of implied consent are the following; one, the driver's prior use of the vehicle. Two, the location and accessibility of the keys. The existence of a familial relationship between the owner and the driver. Four, the conduct of the parties after the accident."

Stokes v. Wynn, So. 3d, 2017 WL 2457348, 42 Fla. Law Weekly D1307 (Fla. 4th DCA, filed June 7, 2017). The jury returned a verdict in favor of the owner/lessor. The plaintiff appealed, objecting to the jury instruction quoted above. The appeals court affirmed the judgment which the trial court had entered in favor of the owner/lessor.

By Steve O’Hara

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