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Liability of Car Owners for Car Accident Injuries

Hollywood A-list star Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, have been named in a car accident lawsuit, alleging liability for a DUI crash with injuries. Neither Hanks nor Wilson were behind the wheel of that car, nor had either been drinking. drive7

So how are they involved? They are the owners of the vehicle. The lawsuit alleges their 25-year-old son, who was allegedly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, was driving recklessly at the time of the crash. Plaintiff asserts defendants Hanks and Wilson were aware of their son’s substance abuse history and negligently granted him access to their vehicle anyway.

Plaintiff alleges he suffered a brain injury and whiplash as a result of the accident. And while the police were never called and defendant driver was never charged with driving under the influence, plaintiff alleges that was only because driver – an aspiring rapper – begged them not to involve police, and plaintiff acquiesced. 

That element is undoubtedly going to hurt plaintiff’s case, and is a good illustration of why car accident victims in Miami should always immediately:

  • Report the accident;
  • Seek medical attention.

This will help to bolster your credibility on the issues you are raising.

This case was filed in California. Luckily in Florida, plaintiffs do not need to prove negligence on the part of vehicle owners (if different from the driver) because Florida law broadly interprets the dangerous instrumentality doctrine to include motor vehicles.

The dangerous instrumentality doctrine is a common law rule that holds motor vehicles are an inherently and fundamentally dangerous tool. That means that when motor vehicle owners grant permission and access to others for use of their cars or trucks, they are vicariously liable for the reckless actions of the driver – regardless of whether they had prior knowledge of the driver’s recklessness or not.

This rule excludes long-term lessors, per the 1991 precedent set with Raynor v. De La Nuez. So for example, if a driver is leasing a vehicle from a dealership and then is negligent in causing a Miami car accident, the dealership is not going to be held liable for those injuries.

Similarly, the rule excludes short-term car rental facilities. First of all, there is the Graves Amendment, which is a federal law that shields motor vehicle leasing companies from liability for accidents involving those rental vehicles.

The Florida Supreme Court affirmed this federal protection from vicarious liability preempted state law. That decision was handed down in 2011 in the case of Vargas v. Enterprise. Previously, Florida allowed some leasing firms to be held responsible for up to $500,000 in damages.

But while the Graves Amendment does shield leasing firms from financial liability, it does not protect private vehicle owners.

That’s why anytime there is a car accident, your injury lawyers should look closely at who owned the vehicle. Sometimes, even if the driver lacked insurance, there may have been insurance on the vehicle itself. Alternatively, the vehicle owner may have an umbrella policy that might provide coverage for accidents like this, wherein the policyholder would otherwise be found personally responsible to pay for such damages.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson Named in Lawsuit Against Son Chet Hanks for Alleged Car Accident, March 28, 2016, By Jodi Gugliemi, People.com

More Blog Entries:

Rish v. Simao – Low-Speed Car Accident Lawsuit, March 26, 2016, Miami Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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