Your Car… Do You Know Who Is Liable?

For many of us the most dangerous item we own is our car. Consequently the most likely area where we will face a lawsuit is from driving the car. Most of us are fine with our own driving responsibility but what about the acts of others when they drive our car. You may be surprised!

Section 324.021(9)(b)(3) of the Florida Statutes provides that the owner of a car who loans the car to ANY permissive user SHALL be liable only up to $100,000 per person, $300,000 per incident for bodily injury and up to $50,000 for property damage. However, IF the permissive user is uninsured or has insurance with limits less than $500,000 combined property damage and bodily injury liability, the owner SHALL be liable up to an additional $500,000 in economic damages.

However, if you are negligent in entrusting the vehicle to someone, then you are responsible if that car has killed someone. The best example is if you loan the car and you know that the driver is intoxicated, has a habit of doing drugs, etc. Thus, the OWNER can be liable to the injured party.

What about your minor child? Did you know that ANY person who signs the application of a minor for a driver license is responsible for any negligence or willful misconduct of a minor? See Section 322.09(2) of the Florida Statutes.

What about liability of jointly owned automobiles? If you own a car as  husband and wife as tenants by the entirities (TBE) and if the husband drives and kills someone then ALL TBE accounts could be subject to the claims of the deceased. Thus, in most situations we recommend that the car titled in the name of the spouse that is driving the car and the accounts are in TBE.

ADVICE: I always advise my clients to have a personal umbrella policy to cover unforeseen liability. The cost of a personal umbrella policy is VERY reasonable considering what it covers. Also, be VERY careful to whom you loan your car. I usually recommend (other than in the situation of a high risk profession such as a surgeon) that each car should be in the name of the person that drives the car and only that person drives the car. Thoroughly discuss this with your insurance agent and determine which is the best way financially and for liability purposes.

New Word of the Week: Strict Liability is liability that is incurred WITHOUT reference to any negligence on your or another person’s part. The liability is based on on a the breach of an absolute duty to make something safe. You can incur strict liability for operating a dangerous instrumentality such as a car but you can be shielded form such liability if you have proper insurance, however it will not shield from such liability if you are negligent in entrusting the car to someone (as discussed above).



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