In Roman v. Bogle, the Fifth District Court of Appeals explains two legal principles that often arise in cases where a person injured in a car accident attempts to recover damages from someone other than the negligent driver: agency and the dangerous instrumentality doctrine.
The lawsuit stemmed from a tragic Florida car accident in which the driver (Mr. Gabriel) and his passenger (Valentin) were killed when the car allegedly ran a red light and was struck by a semi-trailer. Roman, Valentin’s mother and the personal representative of his estate, sued for wrongful death. She filed the action against Bogle, the representative of Gabriel’s estate, and Gabriel’s father. Roman alleged that the father was responsible as owner of the car under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine.
“The dangerous instrumentality doctrine provides that an automobile owner may be held vicariously liable for damages caused by a negligent driver who operates the vehicle with the owner’s consent,” the court explained.
At some point in the proceedings, the parties reached an agreement by which Roman released the father, his insurance company and “their officers, agents, employees, successors and assigns” from all claims related to the accident in exchange for $10,000. Bogle later argued that Roman could not proceed with the claims against the estate because Gabriel was an “agent” of his father as he was driving the car with his father’s consent. Thus, according to Bogle, the claims against Gabriel’s estate were released as part of the agreement. The trial court agreed and entered judgment in Bogle’s favor.
The Fifth District reversed the decision on appeal, however, finding that application of the dangerous instrumentality doctrine does not make a driver the agent of a car’s owner. “While the doctrine may apply to instances where an agency relationship exists between the owner and driver, that relationship is not necessary in order to make the doctrine applicable,” the court said. Rather, agency must be established by showing that: the owner acknowledged that the driver could act on his behalf; the agent accepted the relationship; and the owner controlled the driver’s actions.
In the present case, the court said there was no evidence showing that any of the elements of an agency relationship existed between Gabriel and his father. In addition, according to the court, any such evidence would be outside the actual pleadings in the case and therefore would not be subject to consideration by the court at the dismissal stage. Indeed, the court said that the existence of an agency relationship is typically a question for a jury to decide. Bogle, as the person claiming agency, will have the burden of proving the relationship at trial.
As a result, the Fifth District reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Agency, the dangerous instrumentality doctrine and many other issues related to third-party liability often come up in Florida car accident cases. If you or someone you love has been injured in a crash, contact the South Florida car accident lawyers at Anidjar & Levine. From offices in Ft. Lauderdale, we serve clients throughout the area, including in Boca Raton, Hialeah and Pompano Beach. Call us toll-free at 800-747-3733 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
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