Burch v. Sun State Ford, Inc., 5D02-2807.

Citation864 So.2d 466
Decision Date02 January 2004
Docket NumberNo. 5D02-2807.,5D02-2807.
PartiesLaverica BURCH, etc., et al., Appellants, v. SUN STATE FORD, INC., Appellee.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)

864 So.2d 466

Laverica BURCH, etc., et al., Appellants,

No. 5D02-2807.

District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fifth District.

January 2, 2004.

864 So.2d 468
Daryl D. Parks and Kendra N. Davis, of Parks & Crump, LLC, Tallahassee, for Appellants

Dennis R. O'Connor and Warren B. Kwavnick, of Cooney, Mattson, Lance, Blackburn, Richards & O'Connor, P.A., Ft. Lauderdale, for Appellant, Willie Gene Beauford, Jr.

Gina Caruso Albanese and Robert K. Tucker, of Hinshaw & Culbertson, Ft. Lauderdale for Appellee, Sun State Ford, Inc.

Lucinda A. Hofmann, of Holland & Knight LLP, Miami, Amicus Curiae, Attorneys for Florida Defense Lawyers Association, for Appellee, Sun State Ford.


Appellants, as joint personal representatives of Aaryon Miles' estate, challenge the entry of summary judgment in favor of Appellee, Sun State Ford, Inc., ("Sun State") in this wrongful death case. The lower court determined that Sun State, as owner of the vehicle driven by Willie Gene Beauford, Jr. ("Beauford"), was not vicariously liable under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine ("the doctrine") because Beauford's manner of driving amounted to intentional misconduct. We reverse.

Beauford drove his girlfriend, Teresa Wilson ("Wilson"), and her friend, Bridget Lee ("Lee"), to the Caribbean Club, a nightclub in Orange County. Beauford dropped Wilson and Lee off and went to visit with a friend. Later, Beauford picked up Wilson and Lee from the Caribbean Club and dropped them off at another club, Hero's. While Wilson and Lee were in Hero's, Beauford played cards with a friend, during which time he drank "a couple of beers." Approximately two hours after dropping Wilson and Lee off at Hero's, Beauford returned to Hero's to pick them up. When he arrived, he observed Wilson and Lee getting into a car being driven by the decedent, Aaryon Miles ("Miles"). As the vehicle drove by, Beauford observed Lee and Miles arguing. He began to follow the vehicle, eventually catching up to them at a red light.

At some point Miles stopped his vehicle; Beauford then got out of his vehicle and approached Miles' vehicle. When Beauford approached, Miles drove off. Beauford returned to his vehicle and began to chase Miles' vehicle. During the chase, both vehicles traveled at high rates of

864 So.2d 469
speed and committed numerous traffic violations. The chase ended, however, when Miles lost control of his vehicle and hit a tree. The collision resulted in the death of Miles and severe injuries to Wilson and Lee. Beauford denied that he had intended to harm any of the occupants of the vehicle. He stated that he followed them because it looked like they were arguing and he was curious and concerned for the safety of Wilson and Lee

The vehicle Beauford was driving belonged to Sun State. Sun State had rented the vehicle to Beauford's sister who, in turn, had loaned it to Beauford. As a result of the incident, Beauford was convicted of willful or wanton reckless driving. Based upon Beauford's conviction, the court concluded that no material dispute existed as to the fact that Beauford had engaged in intentional misconduct and that summary judgment was compelled by the First District's decision in Caetano v. Bridges, 502 So.2d 51 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987). We disagree that Caetano requires this conclusion, but to the extent that it does, we decline to follow Caetano.

In Caetano, the defendant borrowed her father's car and drove to Pensacola Beach to look for her boyfriend. When she found her boyfriend, he was in a local drinking establishment in the company of two other women. She waited for him in the parking lot, observed him walking hand-in-hand with the two women, became angry and tried to run him over. Although her boyfriend escaped injury, she injured one of the women (the plaintiff) in his company. The facts were in dispute, however, as to whether she intended to injure the plaintiff or run over her disloyal boyfriend.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the owner of the vehicle, finding that the doctrine did not apply. The First District reversed, holding that, because the evidence was in dispute as to whether the defendant intended to injure the plaintiff, summary judgment was not appropriate. In articulating the legal premise upon which it based its holding, the Caetano court stated, without explanation, that the doctrine does not apply when an "operator is involved in intentional misconduct which is not foreseeable." Id. at 53. What the court meant by "intentional misconduct," however, is not clear because the phrase is susceptible of more than one interpretation. This explains the fact that both Appellants and Sun State cite Caetano as authority for their conflicting positions.

Appellants urge that "intentional misconduct," as used by Caetano, means the type of conduct that occurred there— the use of a motor vehicle in a weapon-like manner with the specific intent to injure the plaintiff. Sun State, on the other hand, asks that we construe Caetano's "intentional misconduct" language very literally to exclude from the doctrine's application any type of intentional misuse of a vehicle, including reckless driving.1 Although such a construction seems contrary to the result reached in Caetano, one district court has cited Caetano for the proposition espoused by Sun State. See Sun Chevrolet, Inc. v. Crespo, 613 So.2d 105 (Fla. 3d DCA 1993) (doctrine only applies to negligent operation of vehicle, citing Caetano). While we do not fully agree with either party's position, we reject Sun State's position because we disagree with its interpretation of Caetano. Alternatively, to the extent that Caetano may be read to stand for the proposition that any type

864 So.2d 470
of intentional misuse of a vehicle results in the severance of liability under the doctrine, we decline to follow it. We conclude that such a proposition is inconsistent with the Florida Supreme Court's decisions that created and refined the doctrine, the established tort precepts upon which the doctrine was based, and the policies underlying the doctrine

The dangerous instrumentality doctrine was adopted by the Florida Supreme Court in 1920. Southern Cotton Oil Co. v. Anderson, [80 Fla. 441,] 86 So. 629 (Fla. 1920). It is premised on the belief that a vehicle, when used for its designed purpose, is likely to cause serious injury to others. Id. at 634. Although originally only applicable in the master-servant context, the doctrine was later extended to bailments, including lessor-lessee relationships. Lynch v. Walker, [159 Fla. 188,] 31 So.2d 268 (Fla.1947). The doctrine imposes strict liability upon the owner of a motor vehicle by requiring that an owner who ...

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