Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine provides that the owner of an inherently dangerous tool is liable for any injuries caused by that tool’s operation. The Florida Supreme Court in 1920, extended the doctrine to motor vehicles, holding that owners may be held accountable for any damages suffered by third parties as the result of the negligent operation of their vehicles, when they are driven by others with their knowledge and consent.
In order to hold a person vicariously liable under this doctrine, such person must have an identifiable property interest in the vehicle. Legal title remains the most common basis for imposing vicarious liability under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. Case law over the years has extended vicarious liability to the owner of a vehicle acting as a lessor or bailor for the negligent operation of the vehicle by the lessee or bailee. An owner-lessor is vicariously liable in situations where the vehicle is operated by one other than the authorized lessee in violation of the terms of the lease. The owner of a vehicle under a long-term lease is liable under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine for the negligence of driver of the vehicle. It is common for leasing companies to require they be named as an insured on the automobile insurance policy the lessee takes out.
Further, under existing Florida statutory law, there is only one instance where a parent can be held vicariously liable for his or her child’s negligent operation of a motor vehicle absent an identifiable property interest in the vehicle, such as ownership, rental, lease, conditional sale or bailment. In 1997, Florida Statute 322.09(2) was enacted to provide the parent who signs the driver’s license application for a minor child can be held vicariously liable for the child’s negligent operation of a motor vehicle. When the child reaches the age of majority, this responsibility ends.