The Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine and the Passage of Time

By: IRA H. LEESFIELD
Leesfield Scolaro
2350 South Dixie Highway
Miami, Florida 33133
(305) 854-4900

Though our courts adhere to a system of precedent, we are not without a mechanism for change. New ideas often prompt judges to depart from traditional ways of thinking, as do legislatures and other law-making bodies. This is what allows government to stay in stride with society; a flexibility which lies at the foundation of our democracy. Yet change does not come about lightly. Lying also at the heart of democracy is a system of values regarding that which we deem to be dear. As such, we hold onto and preserve that which is right.

-Do we dismantle a system which has served us well?

-Judge Grimes in Kraemer v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 572 So.2d 1363, 1365 (Fla.1990): "If Florida's traffic problem's were sufficient to prompt its adoption in 1920, there is all the more reason for its application to today's high-speed travel upon crowded highways."

Purpose of Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine, as stated in Kraemer, at 1363 "...to provide greater financial responsibility to pay for the carnage on our roads. It is premised upon the theory that one who originates the danger by entrusting the automobile to another is in the best position to make certain that there will be adequate resources with which to pay the damages caused by its negligent operation."

Susco Car Rental System of Florida v. Leonard, 112 So.2d 832 (Fla.1959):

Owner of automobile must be held responsible unless there is a species of conversion. Here, petitioner sues rental car company in accident involving driver that was not authorized by the rental company to drive the vehicle. Obligation grows out of Southern Cotton. Provision in contract was not enough to bar liability. That responsibility is attached to ownership is seen in laws that require the owner of a vehicle to register his automobile and provisions requiring owner to assure financial responsibility. "such statutory provisions would...be quite nugatory if ultimate liability could be escaped by contract of the owner.

Raynor v. De La Nuez, 574 So.2d 1091 (Fla.1991):

Long term lessor not liable for driver's negligence under dangerous instrumentality doctrine, where lessor transferred truck's title and possession to lessee, and where driver had registered truck in own name two years before accident. Leasing company alleged that "Automotive Lease" was really a conditional sales contract and that it did not have beneficial ownership of the subject vehicle. Wrong reason. Court says that the sale had already occurred.

Perry v. G.M.A.C. Leasing Corp., 549 So.2d 680 (Fla.2d DCA 1989):

Defendant was the lessor of automobile, granted summary judgment under section 324.021(9)(b), FS (1987), which creates an exception to the dangerous instrumentality doctrine for long-term lessors if certain liability insurance limits are maintained by the lessee. (no denial of access to the courts argument because it cannot be said that there was ever a right of action under these circumstances based on the dangerous instrumentality doctrine). Statue says that lessor of motor vehicle for one year or more is not deemed to be the owner of the vehicle for purpose of determining financial responsibility. Lessor essentially had no more than naked title.

Kraemer v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 556 So.2d 431 (Fla 2d DCA 1989):

Long term lessee loaned car to individual who was involved in fatal accident. The 2nd DCA said "that the record title holder as lessor under a long-term lease is not liable for the negligence of the lessee under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine." at 434. "...the party with beneficial ownership or control over the vehicle's use at the time of the accident should bear responsibility for the vehicle's use...Here, GMAC maintained none of the indicia of beneficial ownership".

Quashed By The Supreme Court

572 So.2d 1363 (Fla.1990).

"The dangerous instrumentality doctrine seeks to provide greater financial responsibility to pay for the carnage on our roads. It is premised upon the theory that the one who originates the danger by entrusting the automobile to another is in the best position to make certain that there will be adequate resources with which to pay the damages caused by its negligent operation." at 1364,65. Not a conditional sale, lease defined. Although 324 had the effect of requiring certain lessees to purchase liability insurance, it did not reflect an intent to exonerate lessors from liability under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. (contrary to Perry, long-term lessors liable).

Southern Cotton Oil Co. v. Anderson, 86 So. 629, 638 (1920):

"[O]ne who authorizes and permits an instrumentality that is peculiarly dangerous in its operation to be used by another person of the highways, is liable in damages for injuries to third persons caused by the negligent operation of such instrumentality on the highway by one so authorized by the owner."

Kane v. Portwood, 573 So.2d 980 (Fla.App.2 Dist.1991):

Jackson v. The Hertz Corporation,

Enterprise Leasing Company v. Almon, 559 So.2d 214 (Fla.1990):