Applying Owner Liability Caps In FloridaCar Accidents
In the case of Brian Walker, as personal representative of the Estate of Sophie C. Walker v. GEICO Inemnity Company, Case Number 4D18-3706 (Fla. 4th DCA March 25, 2020), Florida’s Fourth DCA held that an at-fault driver with coverage under four policies had more than the $500,000 threshold required by section 324.021, Fla. Stat. to cap the liability of the owner for injury or wrongful death.
Thereafter, on June 3, 2020, Florida’s Fourth DCA withdrew the opinion cited above and replaced it with this opinion.
The at-fault driver in this case was driving his stepfather’s vehicle at the time that he negligently caused a fatal accident. The driver had permission from his stepfather to use the vehicle involved.
There were a total of four policies involved in this case.
- Allstate 250/500
- Stand. Fire 100/300
- GEICO 100/300
- Allstate 250/500
Allstate paid its limits of $250,000 and the parties agreed that the plaintiffs would release the driver but only act as a set-off for any other judgment. The plaintiffs executed a dismissal with prejudice of the driver’s estate.
Thereafter, GEICO denied coverage for the claim and a lawsuit was filed joining GEICO as a party claiming breach of the duty to defend under the insurance policy and a breach of the duty to indemnify.
GEICO answered the lawsuit admitting that it denied coverage and claimed that the allegations raised fell outside the policy’s coverage. The owner of the vehicle also filed an answer and affirmative defenses claiming that section 324.021, Fla. Stat. capped his liability.
Florida’s Cap On Damages For Owner Liability When An Accident Is Caused By A Permissive User
Section 324.021(9)(b)3, Fla. Stat., states:
The owner who is a natural person and loans a motor vehicle to any permissive user shall be liable for the operation of the vehicle or the acts of the operator in connection therewith only up to $100,000 per person and up to $300,000 per incident for bodily injury and up to $50,000 for property damage. If the permissive user of the motor vehicle is uninsured or has any insurance with limits less than $500,000 combined property damage and bodily injury liability, the owner shall be liable for up to an additional $500,000 in economic damages only arising out of the use of the motor vehicle. The additional specified liability of the owner for economic damages shall be reduced by amounts actually recovered from the permissive user and from any insurance or self-insurance covering the permissive user. Nothing in this subparagraph shall be construed to affect the liability of the owner for his or her own negligence.
In other words, an owner is only responsible for vicarious liability up to $100,000 per person and $300,000 with an additional limit of $500,000 for economic damages, depending on the permissive user’s insurance limits.
Under the analysis in section 324.021, Fla. Stat., the liability of the owner was limited to $100,000 because the driver had total coverage of $500,000 or more.
Settlement Strategy For Your Case
This case exemplifies the importance of having a settlement strategy in your case. Had the plaintiffs agreed to release the owner (and not the driver), then section 324.021 would not have limited the claim because the cap only applied to owners who had given permission for a third party to use their vehicle. While the stepfather may have had deeper pockets to pay a judgment than the driver, there was more coverage available for the driver.
Talk To A Lakeland Car Accident Lawyer About Your Case
Injuries from a car accident can have a significant impact on the quality of your life. The value of these injuries under Florida law can be substantial even considering the cap on an owner’s liability described above. Get a free consultation with a Lakeland car accident lawyer at Russo Law today to find out the potential of your case.