So Junior “borrowed” the family Volkswagen and brought it back with a busted fender? In the unfortunate event that he injured someone while driving, you, the parents, may be liable. Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal explains in Stanford v. Chagnon.
Plaintiff James Stanford was injured in a car accident in Florida when a pickup truck driven Dena Pace collided with Stanford’s car. Stanford sued Pace, alleging that her negligence caused the accident, and Paul Chagnon, Pace’s stepfather and the owner of the pickup truck. Stanford alleged that Chagnon was liable under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, which imposes liability on the owner of an instrumentality that is “peculiarly dangerous in its operation” for injuries caused by the instrumentality’s negligent operation by anyone who uses it with the owner’s consent.
In a deposition, Chagnon indicated that he was at work at the time of the accident and had left the truck parked at home. He also acknowledged that he had previously allowed Pace, an adult who did not live with him, to drive this truck more than 10 times, but said he did not give her permission on the day of the accident.
Pace testified in a deposition that she didn’t have Chagnon’s permission to drive the truck “that day,” but implied she took the vehicle the day before the accident and kept it overnight. She was not asked, nor did she explain, whether Chagnon had given her permission to take the car the day prior to the accident.
Renee Chagnon, Pace’s mother, testified in a third deposition that Mr. Chagnon typically left the truck at home while at work with the keys hanging on the wall. On prior occasions, Mrs. Chagnon said she had allowed her daughter to use the truck “behind [her husband’s] back.” She was sick on the day of the accident however, and could not remember if she had given Pace permission to use the truck that particular day.
The trial court granted Chagnon’s motion for summary judgment, finding that he was not liable because he had not given Pace permission to drive his truck when the accident happened.
The Second Circuit reversed the decision on appeal. “We cannot conclude that these depositions adequately support a summary judgment,” the court ruled, noting that Pace indicated in her answer to the complaint that she had permission to drive the car when the accident happened. The parent-child relationship is not enough, alone, to hold the parent liable for the negligent use of his or her car by the child, the court stated. Nevertheless, “the courts have hesitated to declare that the owner…did not give express or implied consent to the family member who was operating the vehicle at the time of an accident,” according to the court.
As a result, the court reversed the ruling and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.
If you or a loved one were recently injured in an auto accident, contact the Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine for a free initial consultation. The experienced and diligent accident attorneys represent clients throughout the region, including in Coral Springs, Pompano Beach and Boca Raton. Call the firm’s Fort Lauderdale offices today at 800-747-3733.
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