Limitations of the “Beneficial Ownership” Exception
Christensen v. Bowen, 39 Fla. L. Weekly S214 (Fla. Apr. 10, 2014).
The Florida Supreme Court was asked to address the issue of whether a title co-owner may be vicariously liable under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine for the negligent use of a vehicle if he or she never intended to be an owner and had relinquished all access and control of such vehicle to the other co-owner at the time of the accident. In this case, a husband and wife had purchased a vehicle and the title was issued to them jointly as co-owners. The couple then divorced, and the ex-wife began to use the vehicle exclusively… The Florida Supreme Court affirmed, and held that in the absence of evidence showing that a joint titleholder only continued to hold title because of a conditional sales contract or a faulty, incomplete transfer, such titleholder is a true and beneficial owner as a matter of law, and thus remains vicariously liable under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine, regardless of whether he or she had relinquished control of the vehicle to the other titleholder.
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