Our personal injury attorneys in Miami are very familiar with the challenge of proving negligence in a lawsuit can be complicated, but the doctrine of vicarious liability can ease this process considerably. In this context, vicarious liability refers to situations where the negligence of an individual is attributed to a third-party who was not driving a vehicle involved in the accident, such as an employer or minor’s parent. Many car accidents involve at-fault drivers who lack insurance or assets to pay a judgment or settlement. When situations like this arise, proof of liability of a third-party based on the theory of vicarious liability can mean the difference between being fully compensated for all injuries and needing to pay hospital bills, vehicle repair costs, and other damages out of pocket. Although vicarious liability constitutes a valuable litigation strategy for many Miami car accident victims, the specific facts of a collision can make the task of proving that a third-party should be vicariously liable extremely difficult.
In this blog, our personal injury attorneys review the 1st DCA decision in Depriest v. Greeson that considered the complex issue of the vicarious liability of the estate of a vehicle owner. The daughter of the car owner was operating the car at the time of the collision. She was determined to be at-fault for causing the accident. The plaintiffs, who were involved in an initial head-on collision, were waiting for assistance when the daughter collided with their vehicle. The plaintiffs contended the second impact caused further injury and vehicle damage. A lawsuit was filed against the estate of the owner of the vehicle, who was deceased at the time of the accident.
The plaintiffs pursued a lawsuit against the estate of the decedent based on allegations of negligent entrustment of the vehicle as a dangerous instrument. The plaintiffs argued that the dad let his daughter use the car prior to passing away. The plaintiffs also alleged that the personal representative of the estate had actual knowledge that the daughter was using the vehicle and gave implied consent by permitting ongoing access to the vehicle. The personal representative for the estate responded by emphasizing that he knew the daughter had her own vehicle, so he had no reason to assume she would use the defendant’s car. The insurance company for the estate contended that the daughter did not have permission to drive the vehicle after the death of the decedent. The insurer further pointed out that the decedent did not bequeath the vehicle to the daughter.
The Florida 1st DCA focused on the issues of control and ownership of the vehicle. While the court agreed that the car belonged to the estate, it also noted the vehicle did not belong to any single individual. Since the auto was not bequeathed to any specific party, the daughter and her brother had equal claim as co-beneficiaries. Although the daughter maintained possession of the car, she did not have ownership. The 1st DCA also rejected the notion that the brother, who was nominated as the personal representative of the estate, was financially responsible for the vehicle. Although he had been nominated as the personal representative, the court emphasized he had not been formally appointed. Since he was only nominated, he was not responsible for the vehicle nor did he have the power to give implied consent to the daughter to use the vehicle.
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