In the case of the Estate of Gustavo Ramirez-Lucas v. John Hutchinson and Andrew Hutchinson, Case Number 4D18-2109 (Fla. 4th DCA August 14, 2019), Florida Fourth DCA held that a father who had executed a bill of sale to his son and removed the vehicle from his insurance policy was not vicariously liable under Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine for a car accident caused by his son.
Mr. Ramirez-Lucas unfortunately died after being hit by Andrew Hutchinson’s vehicle while he was riding his bicycle. The estate sued Andrew Hutchinson for negligence and his father, John Hutchinson, for vicarious liability under Florida’s “dangerous instrumentality” doctrine (this doctrine makes the owner of such a dangerous instrumentality legally responsible for any negligence committed with the vehicle in the course and scope of permission to use the vehicle).
Of course people in the real world don’t talk or think in terms of dangerous instrumentalities. Instead, this is simply a case where a father an son initially owned a vehicle together and then sought to transfer ownership (and hence, responsibility in the event of an accident) to the son, who was intended to be the primary driver and owner of the car.
In any event, approximately 5 months before the accident, the father gave his son full possession of the vehicle by signing over the title to him. Thereafter, the son kept the vehicle at his separate residence, paid all costs associated with the vehicle, and (interestingly enough) the case does not say that the son bought insurance on the vehicle.
After his son belatedly paid his father for the vehicle, the father notified his insurance carrier of the sale and requested removal of the vehicle from his policy.
There was never a notice of sale or transfer filed under section 319.22, Fla. Stat. (which is how you notify the State of Florida that you no longer own a vehicle).
In any event, the trial judge found that the father had transferred ownership to his son and the Fourth DCA affirmed.
Why Talk About This Case?
As mentioned in the case, “naked legal title” (merely because the DMV form had not been filed) is not enough to create legal liability. This is why there is a discussion of “beneficial ownership” of the vehicle involved.
This was a very unfortunate fact for the family involved. However, even if the outcome of the case had been different as far as vicarious liability goes, there still would not have been insurance coverage because the father specifically requested removal of the car from his auto policy.
Get Help With Your Case
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, you should contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss the merits of your case. A free consultation should ideally discuss both the good and the bad of your case. Call today for your free consultation with a car accident attorney in Lakeland, Florida.