Limitations on Owner’s Liability in Florida Car Accident – Santos v. Brink

When a person is seriously injured in an automobile accident, the driver’s insurance policy is often insufficient to compensate the victim for his or her injuries. It is therefore important that an accident victim look to all possible sources of recovery. In Florida, a vehicle owner who lends his or her vehicle to someone else is subject to liability as the owner of the vehicle. The owner’s liability is limited, but owner liability is greater when the driver is uninsured or has less than $500,000 policy limits.

The Fifth District recently considered whether the final judgment against a vehicle owner should reflect those liability limitations. In Santos v. Brink, the Fifth District found that the judgment should reflect the owner’s liability limitations to prevent improper consequences to the owner and further litigation. The plaintiff, who was riding a motorcycle, suffered serious brain injuries in a collision. He filed suit against both the owner and the operator of the vehicle. The jury returned a verdict for more than $25 million in damages. After reducing for the plaintiff’s comparative fault, collateral source setoffs, and taxable costs, the court entered a final judgment of more than $12 million against the defendants, noting that recovery against the owner was subject to the limitations in section 324.021(9)(b)3, Florida Statutes. The defendants appealed.

The court affirmed the evidentiary rulings the defendants challenged without further discussion, but it did address the owner’s contention that the judgment against him should not have exceeded $600,000.

Section 324.021(9)(b)(3) provides that a natural person who lends his or her vehicle to a permissive user is liable for the operation of the vehicle or the acts of the driver up to $100,000 per person and $300,000 per incident. If, however, the permissive user is uninsured or has insurance with combined property damage and bodily injury liability limits of less than $500,000, the owner is liable for up to another $500,000, reduced by any amount actually recovered from the permissive user or his or her insurer. These limitations do not apply to the owner’s liability for his or her own negligence.

In this case, the owner’s liability was vicarious. The driver had less than $500,000 limits. The parties agreed that the owner’s liability was limited to $600,000, plus costs and interest. The court found that the final judgment should have reflected this limitation in liability. Without it, the final judgment could unfairly encumber the owner’s property, affect his credit, or lead to further litigation. The appeals court reversed the judgment in part and remanded to the trial court to amend the final judgment to reflect the limitation on the owner’s liability.

If you have been injured in an automobile accident caused by someone else’s negligence, the South Florida car accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine can help you get the compensation you deserve. Schedule a consultation by contacting us at (800) 747-3733, or submitting an online “Contact Us” form.

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