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Florida Second DCA’s rules that Florida Dangerous Instrumentality doctrine does not extend liability to family member bailee of title owner’s vehicle who in turn entrusts vehicle to a third party

On April 1, 2020, in Lambert v. Emerson, No. 2D18-1872, the Florida Second DCA reversed a trial court’s denial of a defendant’s motion for a directed verdict in a motor vehicle negligence case. The defendant whose motion was under review was the mother of the at-fault driver in a motor vehicle accident. Although the at-fault vehicle was owned by her husband, the at-fault driver’s father, the vehicle was typically used by the mother and she had allowed their son to use the vehicle on the night of the accident. The plaintiff sued the son for his alleged negligence and both the father and the mother under the Dangerous Instrumentality doctrine. See Lynch v. Walker, 31 So. 2d 268, 271 (Fla. 1947); Frankel v. Fleming, 69 So. 2d 887, 888 (Fla. 1954); Metzel v. Robinson, 102 So. 2d 385, 385 (Fla. 1958). The Second DCA’s opinion includes an extensive discussion of the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion in Aurbach v. Gallina, 753 So. 2d 60 (Fla. 2000), in which the Florida Supreme Court held that the mere fact that a motor vehicle title holder’s husband had the right to control the use of the vehicle was insufficient to impute vicarious liability to him given that the vehicle was titled in the wife’s name and was entrusted by the wife to their daughter, the at-fault driver. Although Aurbach is factually distinguishable from Lambert insofar as the parent contesting liability in Lambert was in fact the direct bailor of the vehicle to the at-fault driver, the Second DCA focused on the Florida Supreme Court’s observation that the doctrine had only been extended to impose bailee liability when the legal title owner of the vehicle was denying vicarious liability. On this basis, since the father in Lambert had not contested his own vicarious liability as the title owner, the Second DCA concluded that the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict should have been granted. The Second DCA certified the following question to the Florida Supreme Court as a question of great public importance: UNDER THE DANGEROUS INSTRUMENTALITY DOCTRINE, CAN ONE FAMILY MEMBER WHO IS A BAILEE OF A CAR BE HELD VICARIOUSLY LIABLE WHEN THE CAR'S ACKNOWLEDGED TITLE OWNER IS ANOTHER FAMILY MEMBER WHO IS ALSO VICARIOUSLY LIABLE UNDER THE DOCTRINE?