Vicarious Liability for Family Vehicles

Florida vicarious liability is a legal theory where a person is held personally responsible for the acts of another person. This liability is not based on the negligence or fault but rather ownership. This type of vicarious liability is seen often when analyzing Florida personal injury cases that deal with family cars.

A recent appellate decision from the Fourth District Court of Appeals examined the parent-child relationship in the context of holding the parent responsible for the child’s use of the family vehicle. See Shirey v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., So.3d, 37 FLW D969a (Fla. 4th DCA 4-25-2012). In the Shirey decision, the appellate court held that a parent-child relationship does not serve as an independent basis for holding the parent vicariously liable for the child’s use of the parent’s car by itself.

Rather, the court went on to hold that the existence of a familial relationship is one factor to be considered when there is a dispute over whether the vehicle was being operated with the owner’s implied consent at the time of the accident. The Fourth District Court of Appeals provided that other factors included the following:

  1. The driver’s prior use of the vehicle
  2. The location and accessibility of the keys; and
  3. The conduct of the parties after the accident.

Therefore, it seems that the court of appeals has attempted to define factors that each party should consider when moving forward on personal injury and vicarious liability cases dealing with family vehicles. As provided by the case law the analysis should begin with examining the familial relationship and then addressing and scrutinizing the remaining factors provided by the case law.