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What Are Some Common Third Party Liability Theories?

Oldham & Smith Oct. 20, 2017

Precise statistics are hard to establish, but somewhere around one in four Florida motorists have no auto insurance. Furthermore, the Sunshine State has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the country, so millions of other drivers are under-insured.

As a result, there is a fairly good chance that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) does not have enough insurance coverage to fully compensate the victim, especially in catastrophic injury cases, such as wrongful death.

Fortunately, Florida has extremely liberal vicarious liability laws, so victims in these circumstances often have an additional source of compensation they may tap into.

Employer Liability

If the car crash involved a truck driver, bus driver, Uber driver, or other commercial operator, the responde at superior (“let the master answer”) doctrine probably applies, so the tortfeasor’s employer is also liable for the victim’s damages. This rule applies based on a number of factors.

  • Employee: A tortfeasor does not need to receive a regular paycheck and a W-2 to be an employee, as the law defines anyone whom the employer controls, such as independent contractors, owner-operators, and even many unpaid volunteers, as “employees” for negligence purposes.

  • Foreseeable Injury: If a person gets behind the wheel, a traffic collision is always foreseeable, which is not the same thing as inevitable.

  • Scope of Employment: Once limited to delivery drivers and the like, this concept has expanded over the years, and now includes essentially anyone who performs any benefit for the employer, no matter how inconsequential the benefit may be.

Other employer liability theories include negligent hiring and negligent supervision, so even if all the responde at superior elements are not present, the employer is probably still liable.

Alcohol Provider Liability

Florida also has a broad dram shop law, even though some other states have either limited their alcohol liability laws or eliminated them altogether. Convenience stores, restaurants, bars, and other commercial providers must provide compensation to injured victims if the tortfeasor was

  • Under 21, or

  • “Habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages.”

In the latter instance, the victim must also establish knowledge. Circumstantial evidence is usually sufficient; for example, the tortfeasor may be a regular customer at that establishment or the tortfeasor may say something incriminating to an employee.

If there are multiple responsible parties in the same case, Florida courts usually apportion damages among them based on their percentage of fault. So, it is important for a personal injury lawyer to convince the jury that the car crash or other incident would not have occurred except for the employer’s or bar’s negligence.

Contact Aggressive Attorneys

The tortfeasor is often not the only party who is responsible for damages in a car crash case. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Orlando, contact Oldham & Smith. We are eager to help you today.