Dangerous instrumentality

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The Florida Supreme Court has provided a circular definition of the term dangerous instrumentality, which it defines as:

"any instrumentality of known qualities that is so peculiarly dangerous in its operation as to justify the application of the [dangerous instrumentality doctrine]." Rippy v. Shepard, Case No. SC09-1677 (Fla. 2012).


[edit] Application

The dangerous instrumentality doctrine provides that the owner of a dangerous instrumentality "who voluntarily entrusts that [instrumentality] to an individual whose negligent operation causes damage to another” has vicarious liability for the damage caused by the person operating the dangerous instrumentality. Aurbach v. Gallina, 753 So. 2d 60, 62 (Fla. 2000) (citing S. Cotton Oil Co., 86 So. at 637).

“The liability grows out of the obligation of the owner to have the vehicle, that is not inherently dangerous per se but peculiarly dangerous in its use, properly operated when it is by his authority.” Id. at 632 (quoting Anderson v. S. Cotton Oil Co., 74 So. 975, 978 (Fla. 1917)).

[edit] Motor Vehicles

The Florida Supreme Court has stated that "a primary factor in determining whether an object is a dangerous instrumentality is whether the object at issue is a motor vehicle." See, e.g., Meister, 462 So. 2d at 1072. The Florida Supreme Court first applied the dangerous instrumentality doctrine to automobiles in Southern Cotton Oil Co. v. Anderson, 86 So. 629, 636 (Fla. 1920), where it concluded that the weight, speed, and mechanism of an automobile or motor vehicle make it peculiarly dangerous when in operation.

Florida courts have extended the doctrine to golf carts, trucks, buses, airplanes, tow-motors, tractors, and other motorized vehicles. See, e.g., Meister, 462 So. 2d at 1071 (golf carts); see also id. at 1072 (recognizing trucks and buses as dangerous instrumentalities); Orefice v. Albert, 237 So. 2d 142, 145 (Fla. 1970) (airplanes); Eagle Stevedores, Inc. v. Thomas, 145 So. 2d 551, 552 (Fla. 3d DCA 1962) (tow-motors); Rippy v. Shepard, Case No. SC09-1677 (Fla. 2012) (tractors).

The dangerous instrumentality doctrine is not limited to motor vehicles being operated on a public highway and may apply to a motor vehicle operated on private property. See Meister, 462 So. 2d at 1073.

[edit] History

The dangerous instrumentality doctrine is an old and well-settled rule that can be traced back to English common law. Early in its development, the doctrine applied to objects that “common knowledge and common experience proved to be . . . potent sources of danger.” Id. at 631.

[edit] Purpose

The doctrine is based on “the practical fact that the owner of an instrumentality which [has] the capability of causing death or destruction should in justice answer for misuse of this instrumentality by anyone operating it with his knowledge and consent.” Meister v. Fisher, 462 So. 2d 1071, 1072 (Fla. 1984) (emphasis omitted) (quoting Jordan v. Kelson, 299 So. 2d 109, 111 (Fla. 4th DCA 1974)).

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