A car driver who causes an accident isn't necessarily the only person who may be liable for the damage caused, Florida's Fifth District Court of Appeal explains in the tragic case of Trevino v. Mobley.
20-year-old Heather Mobley was killed in a late night car accident in the summer of 2006 when a Hummer H2 driven by 21-year-old Javier Trevino allegedly slammed into Mobley's Ford Focus. Trevino was allegedly speeding at the time of the accident, traveling without the car's headlights on and passing another car in a "no passing" zone. Mobley's mother, Rita, sued Trevino's parents - the owners of the Hummer - for wrongful death. She also raised a dangerous instrumentality claim, alleging that the Trevinos were liable because they lent the car - an inherently dangerous instrument - to Javier, and a claim for negligent entrustment, arguing that they were also negligent in allowing Javier to drive the car, knowing that he was a reckless driver.
Following trial, the lower court entered a directed verdict in Mobley's favor on the issue of whether Javier was driving the Hummer at the time of the accident. The court entered a directed verdict in favor of the Trevinos, however, on Mobley's claim for negligent entrustment, finding that it was essentially redundant. That is, the Trevinos could not be subject to additional liability on the negligent entrustment claim if they were also found liable on the dangerous instrumentality claim, according to the trial judge, because Section 324.021, Florida Statutes, limits noneconomic damages awardable against a vehicle owner for damages caused by the negligence of a permissive user.
Nevertheless, the jury returned a verdict for Mobley on the wrongful death and dangerous instrumentality claims and awarded her $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
On appeal, the Fifth District upheld both the judge's directed verdict identifying Javier as the Hummer's driver and the jury's damages award. The Court reversed the directed verdict on Mobley's negligent entrustment claim, however.
Specifically, the Court ruled that the trial judge should have waited until the jury reached a decision on the wrongful death and dangerous instrumentality claims before considering the negligent entrustment claim. In other words, the Court ruled that the Trevinos could be held liable both for Javier's negligence and for their own negligent behavior in giving him the keys to the car and that this liability was not limited by section 324.021. "The statute limits a vehicle owner's exposure for vicarious liability, but it does not apply to limit the owner's direct liability for his or her own negligence," the Court said.
As this case makes clear, a car accident can have devastating consequences for the victim, as well as his or her family and friends. The South Florida accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine draw on the expertise of a full team of personal injury lawyers, medical/legal support experts and investigators who are ready to represent you in and out of the courtroom. If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident, call toll-free at (800) 747-FREE (3733) or submit an online Contact Us form to schedule a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney.
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