Choose a Topic

View Our Case Results
Kelley/Uustal Practice Areas

Kenneth Adams, et al. v. Bell Partners, Inc., et al., Case Nos. 4D12-3336 and 4D12-3427 (4th DCA)

The Fourth DCA in Adams reversed a summary judgment entered in favor of the defense. The plaintiffs were injured in a car accident with a rental car paid for by an employer and authorized to be driven by an employee, but was being driven by the employee’s husband at the time of the incident. The appellate court found that material issues of fact existed which should be presented to a jury.

The defendant employer had authorized its employee to rent and drive a vehicle for business purposes. The plaintiffs sued the defendant employer under the ‘dangerous instrumentality’ doctrine alleging that the employer was vicariously liable because it authorized and paid for the employee to rent the vehicle. The employee frequently traveled for work purposes, and the employer would reimburse her for mileage or pay for a rental car. While the employee understood that the rental car was to be used for work and work-related purposes, her supervisor had never objected to the employee’s husband driving the rental cars, despite knowing he would do so. In addition, the supervisor often let his wife drive rental cars paid for by the employer. This despite the fact that company policy strictly prohibited the use of rental vehicles for personal purposes and prohibited non-employees from operating the rental cars.

The employer filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the employee’s husband did not have prior consent or authorization to drive the rental car, that the employer’s policy prohibited such use, and that the employee’s husband’s actions constituted a species of conversion or theft. The trial court granted the employer’s motion.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the dangerous instrumentality doctrine and the principle of bailment render the employer vicariously liable. “Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine imposes strict vicarious liability upon the owner of a motor vehicle who voluntarily entrusts that motor vehicle to an individual whose negligent operation causes damage to another.” Bailment is “generally a contractual relationship among parties in which the subject matter of the relationship is delivered temporarily to and accepted by one other than the owner.” “[A] person for whose benefit a vehicle is rented and who pays the expense thereof can be found to be a bailee of the vehicle.” The employer argued, in response, that the employee’s husband’s driving the vehicle without prior consent or authorization constitute a “species of conversion or theft” which would relieve the employer of vicarious liability.

The Fourth DCA noted that an entity’s status as a bailee is a question of fact for a jury to resolve. Similarly, questions of fact are raised when an entity denies vicarious liability arguing conversion or theft of the subject vehicle. Where an owner consented to the use of his vehicle beyond his own immediate control, he is responsible for its use or misuse unless there has been a breach of custody amounting to a species of conversion or theft. The Fourth DCA found that whether the employer is vicariously liable for the employee’s husband’s driving of the rental vehicle requires a fact-based inquiry of the employer’s status as a bailee. Therefore, the Fourth DCA reversed the summary judgment entered in the employer’s favor.

Recognized as One of the Nation's Best Law Firms

Don't just take our word for it. See it for yourself.

Client Reviews & Testimonials
  • AV Peer Review Rated
  • Florida Super Lawyers
  • South Florida Top Rated Lawyers
  • Best Law Firms
  • The Best Lawyers in America
  • The National Trial Lawyers - Top 100 Trial Lawyers
  • South Florida Business Journal - 2017  Best Places to Work
  • Sun Sentinel - 2017 Top Work Places
© 2014 All Rights Reserved The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.