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Court Takes on Co-Owner Liability in Florida Car Accident Case

Ortiz v. Regalado

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 In Ortiz v. Regalado, Florida's Second District Court of Appeal takes on an important car accident litigation issue of the liability of a car co-owner when the vehicle is involved in an accident while being driven by its other owner. 

The case stemmed from a fatal car accident in which a vehicle driven by Andy collided with a car driven by Lourdes, killing one of three of Lourdes' children who were passengers in the car. Andy's father, D.C., shared with Andy title to the car involved in the accident. Lourdes and her husband filed a lawsuit, claiming that Andy was negligent in causing the accident and that D.C. was vicariously liable as joint owner of the car.

Following trial, a jury found that Andy and Lourdes were each 50 percent negligent. Under Florida's comparative negligence system, a person who is injured partly due to his or her own negligence can hold another party liable proportionately. As a result, the trial court ordered Andy and D.C. to pay half of the more than $1.4 million in damages awarded for Regalado and her children. The court also ordered Andy and D.C. to pay the entire amount of a $1 million award for past and future pain and suffering to Lourdes' husband, Misael.

On appeal, however, the Second District overturned the order to the extent it required Andy and D.C. to pay the entire amount of Misael's damages award. Section 768.31, Florida Statutes (2006) provides that when two or more persons are jointly liable for the same injury to a person and one of the liable parties pays more than his share, that party is entitled to pro rata contribution from the other. The appeals court remanded the case back to the trial court to consider the contribution issue.

The Court rejected D.C.'s claim that, as a co-owner of the car who was not directly involved in the accident, he was entitled to a limitation of damages under section 324.021(9)(b)(3), Florida Statutes (2006). As the Court explained, the law "sets a limit on damages for which an owner of a vehicle is responsible when the owner loans the vehicle to another whose negligent operation of the vehicle results in damages to another." In this case, however, D.C. did not loan the car to Andy. Instead, Andy was lawfully driving the vehicle as its joint owner. "An owner of an object can only loan that object to another who has no legal right to the object," the Court observed.

Yet the Court noted that the term "loans" was not specifically defined in the statute. Thus, it certified a question for the state supreme court as to whether the damages limit under section 324.021(9)(b)(3) applies to a vehicle co-owner in the event that the car's other owner is involved in an accident.

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If you or someone you love has been injured in a car accident, the St. Augustine personal injury attorneys at Canan Law are ready to investigate your case and represent you in and out of the courtroom. We offer free consultations and our attorneys are available 24/7 to assist you.

Call us or stop by our offices at 43 Cincinnati Avenue in downtown St. Augustine if you have any questions about auto accidents or personal injury cases.

Canan Law, the most respected team of attorneys in St. Augustine, keeps you informed with blog posts discussing legal terms and Florida court cases that matter to you. Our firm specializes in auto accidents, personal injury and medical malpractice cases. Ask your legal question today with our website's live chat feature!

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