Shareholder Kansas Gooden and partner Kevin Franz successfully defended against an appeal brought by a plaintiff in a wrongful death action where the trial court ruled that the owner of the vehicle involved in the accident was limited to $100,000 in liability. The case arose out of a fatal accident where an estate of the decedent sued the vehicle’s owner as well as his stepson who was driving the vehicle.
Under section 324.021(9)(b)(3), a vehicle owner’s vicarious liability under Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine is limited to $100,000 per person and up to $300,000 per accident if the permissive driver has insurance of $500,000 in combined property and bodily injury coverage. In this case, the permissive driver was insured under four policies with a total of bodily injury and property damages coverage of $1,050,000 per person and $1,950,000 per accident.
An insurer, which insured both the owner and driver, paid the decedent’s estate $250,000. The owner moved for and was granted summary final judgment because the $250,000 payment fully satisfied the $100,000 liability cap under Florida law. The Plaintiff appealed arguing that it was improper for the trial court to apply the $250,000 payment to both satisfy the owner’s maximum liability and count towards the driver’s coverage. The appellate court rejected Plaintiff’s argument in holding that the Statute contains “no language excluding insurance policy payments under a vehicle owner’s policy from the calculation of a permissive user’s combined policy limits.” Accordingly, it affirmed the final judgment in favor of the vehicle owner.
If you have any questions about this case or would like to refer an appellate or trial support matter, please contact our appellate attorneys.