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Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine In CMV Accidents


Over time, Florida has developed a legal theory known as the dangerous instrumentality doctrine (DI doctrine), most often seen in road accident cases. This doctrine holds that if a vehicle owner expressly allows another person to operate that vehicle, they are responsible for any damages caused by that person. Florida’s courts have expressly identified motor vehicles as dangerous instrumentalities, which offers injured plaintiffs another way to potentially hold commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers and companies liable for the harm they cause.

Owner Liability Is Imposed

The DI doctrine was developed via case law in Florida, with the earliest case dating to 1920. The rationale behind it is that some things – such as motor vehicles – are so inherently dangerous and so inherently capable of causing harm that even if the owner is not driving, harm caused by that vehicle should be their responsibility. That said, there are exceptions to this rule; generally, if a person is operating someone else’s vehicle without permission, the owner is off the proverbial hook (for example, if a person’s car is stolen, only the thief would be responsible for damages). The doctrine effectively imposes vicarious liability on the owner of the vehicle – whether a car, truck, or commercial motor vehicle – for any damages caused by that vehicle’s negligent operation.

It is important to keep in mind, as well, that Florida’s version of this doctrine makes it easier to establish liability on the part of the defendant – in other words, a plaintiff does not necessarily need to prove that the owner of the vehicle was negligent; rather, they simply have to show that the driver was negligent, and liability will be attributed to the owner through vicarious liability. This would apply to, say, a commercial trucking company and its drivers.

Negligence Must Still Be Proven

While a plaintiff does not have to establish clear liability on the part of the owner, they do still have to establish negligence on the part of the vehicle’s driver. The same criteria for establishing negligence apply in these cases as would elsewhere: one must show that the duty to exercise reasonable care toward other road users was breached, causing harm to the plaintiff, with no other intervening cause to play a role. If the driver is negligent and acting within the scope of their employment, the owner of the vehicle will be held liable as well.

One thing to be aware of, though, is that the DI doctrine is not the same as joint and several liability. Joint and several liability is a situation in which each defendant in a lawsuit may be held responsible for the entirety of a jury award, rather than each one paying their proportional share. The doctrine was abolished in Florida in 2006, with certain specific exceptions, as the legislature held a comparative, proportional fault doctrine was more equitable.

Contact A Tampa CMV Accident Attorney

Being in an accident with a commercial motor vehicle is never easy, but the dangerous instrumentality doctrine can help to cut out some of the legwork that a plaintiff needs to perform in order to obtain compensation after the crash. A Tampa CMV accident attorney from the Rinaldo Law Group can help answer any questions you may have about your options. Call our office today to schedule a consultation.



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