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Reckless Youth – Liability for Teenaged Drivers

shutterstock_144026209-200x300Summer break has ended here in Florida and schools are back in session. Consequently, there are an abundance of inexperienced teenaged drivers on the road. Many of these teenaged drivers are under 18 and driving their parents’ car. In 2015, there were 42,874 teenaged driver car crashes in Florida according to the Department of Highway Safety. At The Grife Law Firm, we have a wealth of experience representing people who have been seriously injured due to young, reckless drivers. Frequently, we are asked: Who can I hold responsible for the damages caused by a reckless teenaged driver?

Pursuant to Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine, the owner of a vehicle is liable for damages caused by the negligence of permissive users. This doctrine was first recognized in the landmark 1920 case of Southern Cotton Oil Co. v. Anderson, wherein the Supreme Court of Florida held that, “[O]ne who authorizes and permits an instrumentality that is peculiarly dangerous in its operation to be used by another on the public highway, is liable in damages for injuries to third persons caused by the negligent operation of such instrumentality…” The rationale is that a motor vehicle is a potentially deadly piece of machinery that can cause serious harm, so the owner must bear some responsibility for damages caused by it. The hope is that the dangerous instrumentality doctrine will encourage vehicle owners to entrust only safe drivers to operate their cars. For purposes of our discussion, if a teenager drives in a reckless fashion and causes a car wreck, the owner of the at-fault vehicle will be held legally responsible for personal injury damages such as medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.

It is important to note that there are limits to the amount of damages that one can recover from the owner of a motor vehicle under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. Pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 324.021(9)(b)(3), the collectable damages from the owner of a vehicle who is liable for the negligence of a permissive user are capped at $100,000 per person and up to $300,000 total per incident for bodily injury. However, if the negligent permissive driver of the motor vehicle is uninsured or has insurance with limits of less than $500,000, the owner can be held liable for up to an additional $500,000 in economic damages only (minus any amount actually recovered from the permissive user). An exception to this limit exists when a motor vehicle is being used for commercial purposes in the normal course of business. In that instance, there is no cap on damages.

In addition to the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, injured victims of a minor’s automotive negligence can collect damages from the adult who signed the minor’s driver’s license application. Florida law requires that every minor who obtains a learner’s permit and driver’s license must have a parent or guardian sign that he or she will be held responsible if the minor drives in a reckless fashion and causes a car crash. Pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 322.09(2), the adult who signed the minor’s driver’s application will be held jointly and severally liable for the damages caused by the minor’s “negligence or willful misconduct”. Unlike a claim under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, there is no cap for damages when bringing a lawsuit against the adult signor of the minor’s driver’s license application. Note that liability under Fla. Stat. § 322.09(2) is separate and apart from the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, meaning that the adult signor can be held responsible for the minor’s negligence regardless of who owned the car the minor was driving.

When we at The Grife Law Firm are engaged by injured victims of the careless driving of a minor, we thoroughly explore all avenues of financial recovery for our clients. We have seen instances where a reckless teenaged driver caused a car crash in a vehicle owned by a person who is different than the parent who signed his driver’s license application. In those cases, we seek damages on behalf of our injured clients from the reckless teenaged driver, the owner of the at-fault motor vehicle and the parent who signed the minor’s driver’s license application.

If you or someone you love is seriously injured or killed due to the negligence of a minor driver, the experienced personal injury attorneys at The Grife Law Firm are here to help. Put our experience and skill to work for you by calling 561.998.0770 for a free consultation.