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De Los Santos v. Brink – Vicarious Liability Limited to $600,000 in Florida Crash Case

A car accident that resulted in severe head injuries to one man resulted in a liability verdict of $25 million at trial.

However, because of comparative negligence, collateral source set-offs and taxable costs, the final judgment was for about half that – $12.8 million. Now on appeal, the liability of one of those two defendants – who was found to be vicariously liable for loaning the vehicle to the driver who caused the crash – has been further reduced.

Per F.S. 324.021(9)(b)3, an owner of a vehicle who is a “natural person” (as opposed to a business) and loans a motor vehicle to a permissive user and that user causes a crash, the owner can be liable for up to $100,000 per person or $300,000 per incident for bodily injury and $50,000 for property damage. However, if that permissive user is uninsured or underinsured, the owner can be liable for an additional maximum $500,000 in economic damages arising from use of that motor vehicle.

According to records in the Orlando-area case of De Los Santos v. Brink, plaintiff was a 26-year-old student who was operating a motorcycle and was stopped at a red light near an intersection. Meanwhile, one of defendants was directly behind him in a passenger vehicle.

When the motorcyclist and the driver proceeded through the intersection when the light turned green, the two vehicles collided. Plaintiff was thrown from the bike and sustained a serious head injury.

Plaintiff sued the driver, alleging negligent operation of the vehicle. He additionally named the owner of the vehicle, claiming vicarious liability for the action of the driver.

Testimony and evidence from plaintiff indicated the passenger vehicle clipped the motorcycle as the two vehicles proceeded through the intersection. An attorney for plaintiff asserted defendant fled the scene, though he was stopped less than a mile away by a police officer who was witness to the crash.

Defense countered plaintiff was comparatively negligent because he engaged in “road rage” and he wasn’t wearing a helmet (even though wearing a helmet is not required by adult motorcycle riders under Florida law). Defendant claimed plaintiff was upset with him for honking his horn when the motorcyclist didn’t accelerate immediately after the light turned green. He asserted plaintiff was operating the motorcycle close to the passenger side of his car and yelling at him.

Plaintiff had remained hospitalized for a full month after the crash, with doctors determining he had suffered a traumatic brain injury. He was in a coma for weeks, and eventually had to undergo speech, occupational and physical therapy to learn how to walk, talk and eat again. Experts testified his cognitive function is severely impaired. He was forced to drop out of school and remains living with his parents, as it is unlikely he will ever again be an independent member of society.

With the latest ruling from the Florida 5th District Court of Appeals, it’s not immediately clear by exactly how much plaintiff’s award will be reduced because it is not stated in appellate court records the apportionment of fault vehicle owner received.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

De Los Santos v. Brink, July 2, 2015, Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

Browder v. City of Albuquerque – Suing Government for Traffic Injuries, June 25, 2015, Orlando Car Accident Attorney Blog

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