Dangerous Instrumentality

Florida has a doctrine called, the "dangerous instrumentality doctrine". This doctrine provides that the owner of an inherently dangerous tool is liable for any injuries caused by that tool's operation. This doctrine goes all the way back to a 1920 case, Southern Cotton Oil Co. v. Anderson., where the Florida Supreme Court held that a motor vehicle was a dangerous instrumentality. This doctrine imposes liability upon the owner of a motor vehicle, if someone other than he or she, operates the motor vehicle in a negligent fashion and and causes harm, personal injury, or death to another.

For an injured party to assert this doctrine, and recover from the owner of a vehicle, that owner must have an identifiable property interest in the vehicle, usually legal title. This doctrine allows for an injured party to attempt to recover damages from not only the operator, but also the owner of a vehicle.

In reading up on Florida's dangerous instrumentality doctrine, I came across a Duke Bar Association Journal article, written in the 1930's by then third year law student, Richard M. Nixon. Yes, that Richard M. Nixon. In his article, titled, "Changing Rules of Liability in Automobile Accident Litigation", Nixon cites a few rules that are included in the standard of care that should be used while operating a motor vehicle. These rules are the "Stop, Look, and Listen Rule", the "Range of Vision Rule", and "Statutory Right of Way at Intersections". The future president's law journal article is an interesting view of the status of automobile litigation in the 1930s.