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What is the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine?

The dangerous instrumentality doctrine is a creation of Florida jurisprudence and decisional law. The doctrine recognizes the importance of extending liability and insurance coverage for the use and operation of automobiles, in order to “provide greater financial responsibility to pay for the carnage on our roads.” Kraemer v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 572 So. 2d 1363, 1365 (Fla. 1990). Florida courts steadfastly remain “loath to engraft upon this doctrine…further exception[s] that would have such far-reaching consequences.” Id.

The authority or consent which underlies the dangerous instrumentality doctrine is merely the consent to use or operate the vehicle outside the owner’s immediate control. Susco Car Rental System of Florida v. Leonard, 112 So.2d 832 (Fla.1959). Once ownership and consent are satisfied, the owner is liable for the negligent operation of his vehicle “no matter where the driver goes, stops, or starts” with minimal exceptions. Boggs v. Butler, 176 So. 174, 176 (Fla. 1937).

The dangerous instrumentality doctrine has its roots in public . Cotton Oil Co. v. Anderson, 86 So. 629, 631-34 (Fla. 1920). The public use requirement is most clearly satisfied in cases of vehicles traditionally used in public settings, such as locomotives, street cars, automobiles, motorcycles, trucks, buses, boats, and airplanes. See id. at 632. It is also satisfied when a non-traditional vehicle traverses public roads, causing injury. See Harding v. Allen-Laux, Inc., 559 So. 2d 107, 108 (Fla. 2d DCA 1990) (applying doctrine to forklift involved in collision “on State Road 43 in Manatee County”); Eagle Stevedores, Inc. v. Thomas, 145 So. 2d 551, 552 (Fla. 3d DCA 1962) (applying doctrine to tow-motor that caused injury “on a public street”).

The bottom line on this issue is the owner is almost always jointly and severally labile for the operation of the owner’s vehicle even forklift or golf carts. Whether this is a good or bad policy for Floridians is subject to debate, but this has been the law in Florida since 1920.


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