Court Finds Rental Car Lessee Not Liable in Stolen-Car Accident

Earlier this month, an appellate court in Florida issued an interesting opinion in a car accident case that required the court to determine whether the instructions provided to the jury by the trial judge were appropriate under the circumstances. Ultimately, the court concluded that the provided instruction was proper and affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The Facts of the Case

A rental car company rented a car to a woman while her car was in the shop. The woman lived in her parents’ house, with about 10 to 12 others, most of which were family. According to the woman, she kept the keys in her locked room. However, another witness testified that she kept the keys on the kitchen counter.

One day, a man who was dating one of the other residents in the home took the woman’s car keys, got in the car, and drove to the store. On the way, he struck the plaintiff, who was riding a motorcycle at the time. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the car, the woman who rented it, and the company that owned the car.

After the testimony had concluded, over the plaintiff’s objection, the judge instructed the jury that the case largely depended on whether the jury believed that the driver of the car exceeded the scope of any implied consent to use the vehicle. In other words, if the jury determined that the man’s actions in taking the vehicle constituted a theft, the woman and the car rental company could not be held liable. The jury found that the accident was completely attributable to the car’s driver, and the woman had not consented to his using the car.

The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial court provided an improper instruction to the jury.

The Appeal

On appeal, the case was affirmed. The court explained that the trial judge’s instruction to the jury was appropriate, given the unique circumstances of the case. The court explained that as a general matter, an owner of a vehicle is only liable for injuries caused by a third party’s use of the vehicle when the third party has the owner’s consent. Here, the court held, there was sufficient evidence for the judge to instruct the jury that the car may have been stolen. As a result, the jury’s finding that the accident was only attributable to the driver of the car will stand.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. In many cases, there may be multiple parties that can be named as defendants, increasing your chance of recovering compensation for your injuries. As a general matter, it is critically important to name all potential defendants to avoid the named defendants from attempting to shift the blame onto a non-present party. To learn more about Maryland accident law, and to speak with a dedicated personal injury attorney about your case, call 410-654-3600 today to schedule a free consultation. Calling is free, and we will not bill you for our time or services unless we are able to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

More Blog Posts:

U.S. Supreme Court Discusses Which Damages Are Appropriate When a Party Acts in Bad Faith, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published May 9, 2017.

Court Refuses to Consider Driver’s Negligence When Hearing “Crashworthiness” Case, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published June 2, 2017.

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