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Florida Fifth DCA rules that Florida's dangerous instrumentality doctrine applies to case involving car accident in South Carolina in which both parties were Florida residents

On May 5, 2017, in Ward v. Morlock, No. 5D16-1641, the Florida Fifth DCA ruled that Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine was applicable to a case involving a motor vehicle accident in South Carolina where both parties to the lawsuit were Florida residents. The defendant, the owner of a vehicle driven by his relative, obtained a summary judgment from the trial court on the basis that under South Carolina law mere ownership of a vehicle is insufficient to establish the owner’s liability for the negligence of the driver. On appeal, the Fifth DCA noted that while Florida courts historically applied the lex loci delicti rule, which makes substantive law of the state where the injury occurred applicable to a personal injury case, the Florida Supreme Court receded from this doctrine in Bishop v. Fla. Specialty Paint Co., 389 So. 2d 999, 1001 (Fla. 1980) in favor of the “significant relationships test” set forth in sections 145-146 of the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws (Am. Law. Inst. 1971). Under the latter test, the law of the place where the injury occurred is presumed to control, unless another state is determined to have a more significant relationship relative to the particular rule of law at issue, taking into account (i) the place where the conduct causing the injury occurred, (ii) the domicile, residence, nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties and (iii) the place where the relationship, if any, between the parties is centered. A comment to Section 174 of the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws specifically states that with regard to the doctrine of vicarious liability, a reviewing court should consider whether the relationship between the defendant and the other person makes the imposition of vicarious liability reasonable and whether there is a reasonable relationship between the defendant and the state whose local law is to be applied. In view of the foregoing, the Fifth DCA concluded that Florida had the most significant relationship to the occurrence and the parties on the issue of vicarious liability because (i) the defendant was a Florida resident and his vehicle was registered and insured in Florida, (ii) the plaintiff was also a resident, (iii) the driver of the defendant’s vehicle was not a South Carolina resident, and (iv) Florida law better serves the interests of both Florida and South Carolina in protecting injured plaintiffs from bearing the costs of injuries caused by negligent defendants.

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