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Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine and DUI Truck Accidents

How Liability Does—And Doesn’t—Change When an Employee Is Intoxicated

In most states, victims of accidents caused by drunk semi-truck drivers have an uphill battle when fighting for fair compensation. Trucking companies may disavow a drunk employee’s activities, trying to prove they were outside of the scope of their work when the accident happened. If they succeed, that means an injury victim won’t be able to make their claim against that company’s commercial insurance.

Florida law, on the other hand, was written to favor the victims of such accidents. Trucking companies cannot choose to reject liability even when the driver’s behavior is obviously negligent. Here’s what that means in practice.

What Is the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine?

Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine means the owner of a vehicle, be it a private individual or a company, is liable for any damage caused by its driver. Essentially, this law is meant to ensure vehicle owners properly vet drivers before handing them the keys. Trucking companies should be doing this anyway, but if they do not, this doctrine gives accident victims the chance to hold them accountable.

Are There Defenses Against the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine?

If the truck company’s name is on the title of the truck, there’s no argument that will convince a judge they are not liable under the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine. Because of this, trucking companies will look for other ways to avoid blame for the accident. This means finding someone else they can claim was liable.

A trucking company may try to argue you were partially at fault for the accident, thus reducing the percentage of your award they would have to pay. They may also look for excuses like equipment malfunctions that can be pinned on another company. These complications drag your case out and endanger your right to compensation.

Our attorneys find and preserve evidence that protects clients against unfair accusations of blame. Because pointing the finger at you is one of the only ways trucking companies can reduce their liability in an accident, it’s important to be ready for these challenges.

What About an Accident Caused By a Freelance Driver?

More truck drivers are working as contractors these days. These individuals tend to own their trucks and carry individual insurance policies because they have no employer to provide these things for them.

In these cases, the driver who caused the accident is also the vehicle owner. There is no reason to assume in such cases that a third party may be liable as well. It’s possible, depending on the circumstances of a driver’s employment, to argue they were misclassified as a contractor. Proving they were an employee in all but name could open the door to additional compensation from the company they were working for. However, because their employer would not be tied to them via truck ownership, this argument is more difficult to make.

How To Use the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine to File a Claim

Because this law was designed to close liability loopholes, the one piece of evidence you’ll need to name a third party in your claim is the title of the truck involved in your accident. This information is easy enough for a personal injury attorney to find.

Under the law, the truck’s owner can be held responsible for:

  • Medical bills
  • Future medical expenses
  • Lost earnings
  • Decrease in earning capacity
  • Household services
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of consortium

In drunk driving claims, you may also be able to request punitive damages. These are only awarded in cases of serious gross negligence or intentionally dangerous actions.

Especially for a truck driver, getting behind the wheel while drunk is a greater form of negligence than having one’s attention wander while on the road. Our attorneys review these cases in full to determine whether there’s a chance to recover punitive damages for our clients.

Before You Go: Know the Rules for Truck Accident DUIs

You may think you already know what a DUI means. The legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for most drivers is .08%. Any higher than that, and you could be tried for drunk driving.

For those who hold commercial drivers’ licenses, though, the law is stricter. A BAC of .04% or higher is enough to trigger drunk driving charges. For most truck drivers, this means even one drink is too many. The higher a driver’s BAC is above the floor of .04%, the more of a case you will have for serious gross negligence and punitive damages. Make sure your attorney investigates this angle to maximize your compensation.

Make Sure You Get the Compensation You Need

Florida accident victims may be more protected by the law than those in other states, but you still need a skilled attorney on your side if you were hurt in a DUI truck accident. Having someone to find and preserve evidence, prepare legal arguments, and take the lead in negotiations will make your claim easier and likely more effective as well.

Everyone knows drunk driving is wrong. Anyone who operates a vehicle for a living, such as a truck driver, absolutely knows better than to be on the road after drinking. We are here to help the people who are injured by careless or thoughtless individuals.

Looking for a truck accident lawyer? Call Schlesinger Law Offices, P.A. at (954) 467-8800 to schedule a free consultation.