Liability in Rental Car Accidents in Florida – Adams v. Bell Partners

The use of rental cars is very common in Florida due to the high volume of visitors who travel to the state for business and pleasure every year. The high rate of rental car use also means that rental car accidents are quite common. Unfortunately, Florida laws pertaining to collisions in rented and leased vehicles favor insurance companies and car rental companies as opposed to the car accident victims. If you’ve been injured in a rental car accident then South Florida personal injury attorney Robert Dixon can help.

In Adams v. Bell Partners, the plaintiffs were injured in an automobile accident involving a rental car. The rental car was paid for by the driver’s employer, Bell Partners. Bell Partners had rented the car for their employee to use for business purposes. At the time of the collision, the vehicle was being driven by the employee’s husband. Bell Partners had an express policy that prohibited the use of rental vehicles by anyone other than an employee. Despite this policy, it was known by the employee’s boss that the employee often let her husband drive the rented cars, and he was also listed on the rental policy as a permitted driver.

The plaintiffs sued Bell Partners alleging the employer was liable for the accident since the car was rented in the company’s name. Specifically, the plaintiffs cited the dangerous instrumentality doctrine claiming the employer was vicariously liable for authorizing and paying for the employee to rent and use the vehicle. Bell Partners’s insurance company denied liability citing that company policy forbade the employee’s husband from operating the rented car and they did not have to cover the plaintiff’s damages because the employee’s husband was not an authorized user.

The court agreed with the insurance company and dismissed the plaintiff’s case, stating that it was undisputed that, at the time of the accident, the employer did not own, lease or have possession of the car.

The plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision holding that the issue of whether or not the employee’s husband was an authorized driver of the car was a question that needed to be answered by a jury, not a judge. Ultimately, the status of the husband depended on the facts of the case. One relevant fact the jury could consider when determining whether the husband was an authorized driver or not would be to examine prior instances of the husband driving with the employer’s knowledge.

As illustrated by this case, issues of liability when it comes to rental cars can become very complex very quickly. If you’ve been involved in an automobile accident involving a rental car, you should consult an experienced Miami auto accident attorney. At the Law Offices of Robert Dixon, our entire team is dedicated to serving you with the utmost courtesy and respect. We strongly believe that accident victims deserve justice and fair monetary compensation to ease the burdens and stress that accompany such incidents. We have worked extensively with adverse parties and insurance companies on behalf of our clients. To learn all your legal options, do not hesitate to reach out to us. You can contact us online or call us today at 1-877-499-HURT (4878) for a free, confidential consultation.

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