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Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine Preempted in Florida for Aircraft

Chris Russo Mar 18, 2010

Normally after an accident or injury, the owner of a dangerous instrumentality, such as a car, truck, bus, plane, boat, vessel, etc., has been held strictly liable for the negligence of the driver/operator.  The historical reason for this is that public policy of the State of Florida should not be able to escape liability for the incident just because he let someone else drive his vehicle.  All of us, including lawmakers, know that cars, boats, planes, etc. all have the propensity to cause serious injuries or death as they can all reach high speeds and offer relatively little protection against injury or death (when compared to walking or bicycling).  Again, this is the reason for making the owners of such vehicles responsible for the carnage that occurs on our roadways, skies, and waterways.  As such, owners must be accountable to make sure that their vehicles are maintained properly and that they think twice before they entrust their vehicles out to other people who might not drive with the same level of care.  A decision by the Second DCA (Vreeland v. Ferrer) recently held that the Federal Aviation Act, 49 U.S.C. sec. 44112 preempts the dangerous instrumentality doctrine in the State of Florida insofar as it would hold the owner or lessor of a civil aircraft liable for another's negligence committed when the owner or lessor was not in actual possession or control of the aircraft.  Essentially, in order for the injured person to hold the owner of civil aircraft liable, the injured person must show that the owner was actually at the controls of the plane as there is language in the decision about controlling the propellor.  As such, it is doubtful that an owner in one of the passenger seats of the plane without controls would not be preempted from liability.

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