Jury Instructions Involving Theft or Conversion of a Vehicle

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Tucker Law

Fort Lauderdale, FL


Practice Areas: Wrongful Death

In the Fourth District, which includes Broward County, the court may instruct a jury that if it finds that the driver of a vehicle stole or converted the vehicle involved in an accident, the jury can find that the driver, and not the vehicle owner, is solely liable of the accident.

In Stokes v. Wynn, No. 4D15-0873 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. June 7, 2017), the main issue presented the jury was how one of the defendants obtained possession of the vehicle.  The vehicle had originally been rented from Hertz by a co-defendant.

At the time, the co-defendant, Wynn, lived at her parents house in Sanford, Florida.  There were multiple vehicles in the driveway because there was some ten to twelve individuals living inside of the residence.  Because there was so many people living under one roof, people had to move others’ cars to unblock their own vehicle.  When the co-defendant had a mechanical issue, she took her vehicle to the shop to get fixed.  At which point, she rented a vehicle from Hertz so that she could get around town.

Unlike the norm of leaving the keys in the kitchen cabinet, she put the keys in a locked dresser in the room that she was sleeping in.  The Defendant, Phillips, was a boyfriend to another of the persons living inside of the house.  Phillips testimony was that he took the rental car keys from the kitchen counter, not the locked dresser drawer.  However, Phillips did not obtain permission to drive the vehicle.

At trial the co-defendant sought to alter the standard instruction on express and implied consent.  The trial court ultimately agreed that modification of the standard instruction was available.

The jury ultimately determined that Defendant Phillips was not operating the motor vehicle with either of the express or implied consent of the co-defendant, Wynn.  The jury further found 100% liability on Defendant Phillips.  The appellate Court in the Stokes case found there was sufficient evidence to support a conversion or theft claim.

In a similar case, Ryder TRS, Inc. v. Hirsch, 900 So. 2d 608 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005), a renters girlfriend was in a car accident after the renter was told he would be arrested if he continued to drive it due to the failure to return the vehicle.  The appellate court found in that case it was not an error when the trial court provided an instruction on conversion.

It is important to seek a car accident attorney that will pursue facts during the discovery phase that will allow a jury to find the vehicle owner—or in this case the vehicle renter—liable—not just against the driver, but also the vehicle owner.

From the Author: Accident Lawyer