When a person is seriously injured in an automobile accident, the driver's insurance policy is often insufficient to compensate the victim for his or her injuries. It is therefore important that an accident victim look to all possible sources of recovery. In Florida, a vehicle owner who lends his or her vehicle to someone else is subject to liability as the owner of the vehicle. The owner's liability is limited, but owner liability is greater when the driver is uninsured or has less than $500,000 policy limits.
The Fifth District recently considered whether the final judgment against a vehicle owner should reflect those liability limitations. In Santos v. Brink, the Fifth District found that the judgment should reflect the owner's liability limitations to prevent improper consequences to the owner and further litigation. The plaintiff, who was riding a motorcycle, suffered serious brain injuries in a collision. He filed suit against both the owner and the operator of the vehicle. The jury returned a verdict for more than $25 million in damages. After reducing for the plaintiff's comparative fault, collateral source setoffs, and taxable costs, the court entered a final judgment of more than $12 million against the defendants, noting that recovery against the owner was subject to the limitations in section 324.021(9)(b)3, Florida Statutes. The defendants appealed.
The court affirmed the evidentiary rulings the defendants challenged without further discussion, but it did address the owner's contention that the judgment against him should not have exceeded $600,000.