Florida is among the few states that adhere strictly to the legal theory of vicarious liability where vehicle ownership is concerned. That is, motor vehicles are considered a dangerous instrument. As such, vehicle owners who willingly entrust their cars or trucks to another person could be held vicariously liable for injuries or damages that result.
This is often applied to situations in which employees drive an employer’s vehicle. However, it can also be applied to private citizens loaning their cars to friends or family members.
It’s good news for victims of crashes because it grants one more avenue of insurance coverage in the event of a collision or other incident.
This insurance coverage can offer protection in the event of illegal actions resulting in injury or death as well. These might include drunk driving and possibly even intentional injuries caused to another through the use of the vehicle (i.e., running over someone).
However, not all injuries that stem from the use of a car will be covered. Various courts have had different interpretations.
For example, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal in 1991 reversed summary judgment favoring the insurer in State Farm v. Davis and Painter. In that case, one man shot another from a vehicle, resulting in injuries. The court was asked to decide whether the shooting resulted from the ownership, maintenance or use of the assailant’s vehicle. The court ruled the shooting did result from use of the vehicle, and therefore refused to absolve the insurer of liability for injuries sustained.
However, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in 2009 the victim of a drive-by shooting was not entitled to uninsured motorist benefits to cover the cost of medical care. Although the court determined the woman’s injuries qualified as an “accident” under state insurance law, the shooting was not reportedly caused by the “ownership, maintenance, operation or use of an uninsured vehicle.”
More recently, the Rhode Island Supreme Court weighed a similar case, Hough v. McKiernan. In that case, a man driving his grandmother’s vehicle accosted another man walking home from work. After a verbal altercation, the driver got out of the vehicle and assaulted the other man, resulting in serious head and internal injuries requiring extensive surgery and therapy.
While victim did obtain $975,000 in compensation from the driver following a personal injury lawsuit, he then sought to obtain coverage from the (now-deceased) grandmother’s estate on the basis of her ownership of the vehicle.
Court ruled although driver was permitted by owner to drive the vehicle – thus holding her vicariously responsible for any accidents resulting – it was not applicable in this case. While the term “accident” has been interpreted to mean intentional as well as unintentional acts occurring during the use/operation of a vehicle with consent of owner, there must be a causal relationship between use of the vehicle and injuries sustained by plaintiff.
In Hough, the attacker exited the vehicle and carried out an assault on the victim a distance from the vehicle. Therefore, justices ruled, the injuries sustained were unrelated to the operation of the insured vehicle.
The bottom line is that the term “accident” may be interpreted broadly by state courts. Whether insurance may cover your injuries will depend on the state in which the injuries occur, as well as the underlying details. Our experienced accident attorneys can help you determine your best course of action.
If you have been injured in a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Hough v. McKiernan, Jan. 22, 2015, Rhode Island Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Report: Hit-and-Run Crashes Spike in Florida, Jan. 20, 2015, Fort Myers Injury Lawyer Blog