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Florida Supreme Court Finds Front Loader a “Dangerous Instrumentality”

Posted by Annie Dike | Oct 29, 2018 | 0 Comments

Read the full opinion here: Newton v. Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation, et al., Case No. SC17-67 (Supreme Court of Florida, September 27, 2018)

 The Florida Supreme Court is not a big fan of front loaders!  The court recently issued an opinion finding Caterpillar could be vicariously liable for an injury caused by negligent operation of a Caterpillar front loader because the loader qualifies as a “dangerous instrumentality.”     

Newton's Front Loader Injury

In Newton v. Caterpillar, Newton was injured when working with another man to clear debris from an empty lot.  Unfortunately, Newton was injured when a stump was negligently released from the loader into the debris trailer while Newton was in it. The stump rolled onto his hand, severing Newton's middle finger.  Newton sued Caterpillar under a theory known as “dangerous instrumentality.”  This basically means the product is so dangerous the owner can be held vicariously liable for voluntarily entrusting it to someone who operates it negligently and causes injuries. 

Motor Vehicles are Dangerous Instrumentalities

In Florida, motor vehicles are considered “dangerous instrumentalities.”  The Florida courts have found motor vehicles so dangerous that the owner can be liable for injuries caused in an accident, even if he or she was not driving.  Did you know that?  By simply entrusting your vehicle to someone—meaning, letting someone else drive it—you, as the vehicle owner, could be responsible for injuries caused if that person negligently causes an accident.  How often is it that car accidents are caused by negligent driving?  Knowing about laws like these may make you think twice about handing your keys over to just anyone. 

The Court's Finding: Front Loaders are Dangerous Instrumentalities

In the Newton case Caterpillar handed the keys to one of their front loaders to the man Newton was clearing debris with under a standard construction equipment rental agreement.  While the trial court below found the front loader was not dangerous enough to hold Caterpillar responsible for the injuries its negligent operation caused Newton, the Florida Supreme Court disagreed.  Considering factors such as whether the instrument is a motor vehicle, whether it is frequently operated in the public, and whether it has any particularly dangerous elements to it, the Florida Supreme Court concluded Caterpillars loaders were dangerous enough to be considered a “dangerous instrumentality.”  This meant, contrary to the ruling of the lower court, Caterpillar could be held responsible for the injuries caused to Newton by negligent use of one of Caterpillar's front loaders. 

How This Decision Could Impact You

This is an important step toward protecting the rights of people who are injured on someone else's property, or while working with heavy duty equipment.  We have seen many construction accidents at TWW, and we are proud of the Florida Supreme Court for this ruling.  If you or someone you know has been injured while working with equipment or a product and you have a question about who might be responsible, please do not hesitate to contact us. 

Maybe you were working with something the courts have considered a “dangerous instrumentality,” and you did not know it.  In addition, there may be multiple parties (or parties you did not expect) responsible, and waiting to contact a lawyer can severely impact your right to pursue claims against those parties.  Plus, there's no downside to getting free information, because we never charge any fee or cost to meet with you and explain your rights. Contact us

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