39 Fla. L. Weekly D1055a
instrumentality doctrine — Damages — Where defendant had consigned his vehicle
to party who was driving vehicle at time of accident, it was error to limit
defendant’s liability for noneconomic damages to $100,000 pursuant to statute
which limits award of noneconomic damages against a vehicle owner who loans
vehicle to a permissive user — Commercial consignment of vehicle for the
purpose of selling the vehicle is not a loan — Trial court erred in setting off
settlement amounts received from other defendants against noneconomic damages
award against defendant
Personal Representative of the Estate of Eduardo Villanueva, Deceased,
Appellee/Cross-Appellant. 2nd District. Case No. 2D12-4724. Opinion filed May
21, 2014. Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; Bernard C.
Silver, Judge. Counsel: T. Patton Youngblood, Jr., of Youngblood Law Firm, St.
Petersburg, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee. Kennan G. Dandar of Dandar &
Dandar, P.A., Tampa, for Appellee/Cross-Appellant.
wrongful death action following a jury trial. The Estate of Eduardo Villanueva
(the Estate) filed a cross-appeal. We affirm without comment the issues raised
on direct appeal and two of the four issues raised on cross-appeal. However, we
reverse and remand for further proceedings on the cross-appeal issue wherein the
trial court improperly applied section 324.021(9)(b)(3), Florida Statutes
(2002), to limit Youngblood’s liability for noneconomic damages at $100,000. We
also reverse and remand for further proceedings on the cross-appeal issue
wherein the trial court improperly set off the settlement amounts received from
the other defendants against the noneconomic damages awarded to the Estate
pursuant to sections 46.015 and 768.041, Florida Statutes (2002).
Vega, Teddy Aponte, Fisher Auto Sales, Youngblood, and his ex-wife, Angela
Youngblood.1 Prior to trial, the Estate
reached settlements with all the remaining defendants except Youngblood. The
total amount of those pretrial settlements was $78,000. The Estate received a
PIP benefit for wrongful death damages in an amount of $5,000.
vehicle to Teddy Aponte of Extreme Auto Sales with instructions to sell the
vehicle. Youngblood testified that he never wanted to see the vehicle again
after he handed the keys to Aponte, and he gave him no time limit in which to
sell the vehicle. Because Aponte was driving the vehicle for his personal use
when he struck and killed Eduardo Villanueva, Youngblood contended that this
constituted a theft or conversion which exempted him from liability.2 However, the jury specifically rejected this
contention as part of its interrogatory verdict.
funeral and cemetery expenses and $190,000 in noneconomic damages for the pain
and suffering sustained by Rosalina Villanueva as a result of her husband’s
death. Youngblood thereafter sought a setoff of the pretrial settlement amounts
against the overall verdict of $199,043.75. The trial court determined that the
noneconomic damage portion of the $78,000 of the pretrial settlements was
$74,462, which the trial court deducted from the $190,000 jury award for
noneconomic damages. The trial court capped those damages at $100,000 by
applying section 324.021(9)(b)(3). The trial court then reduced the $9,043.75 in
economic damages by the amount of the economic damages portion of the pretrial
settlements, which was $3,538, and further reduced the amount by the $5,000 PIP
payout, for a total amount of $505.75 in economic damages. These calculations
are reflected in the final judgment entered by the trial court.
section 324.021(9)(b)(3) which provides:
The owner who is a natural person and loans a motor vehicle to
any permissive user shall be liable for the operation of the vehicle or the
acts of the operator in connection therewith only up to $100,000 per person and
up to $300,000 per incident for bodily injury and up to $50,000 for property
damage. If the permissive user of the motor vehicle is uninsured or has any
insurance with limits less than $500,000 combined property damage and bodily
injury liability, the owner shall be liable for up to an additional $500,000 in
economic damages only arising out of the use of the motor vehicle. The
additional specified liability of the owner for economic damages shall be
reduced by amounts actually recovered from the permissive user and from any
insurance or self-insurance covering the permissive user. Nothing in this
subparagraph shall be construed to affect the liability of the owner for his or
her own negligence.
was not a direct ‘loan’ from the vehicle owner to the vehicle operator,”
Youngblood was still liable for the acts of Aponte under the dangerous
instrumentality doctrine, and therefore, in its opinion, section
324.021(9)(b)(3) still applied. Because the issue of whether a setoff is
applicable hinges on whether a loan, directly or indirectly, occurred in this
case, we turn to precedent from this court for guidance.
to a vehicle. Id. at 58-59. While driving the vehicle, Andy was involved
in a fatal collision. Id. at 59. Ortiz argued on appeal that the
limitation on liability under section 324.021(9)(b)(3) was applicable to him
because the vehicle was negligently operated by a co-owner. Id. at 59-60.
This court rejected this argument, noting that the word “loan” was not defined
in the statute, but also finding that there was no clear intent of the
legislature to give it a different meaning as between co-owners. Id. at
61. Importantly, the court looked to the definition of “loan” in section
265.565(2)(b), Florida Statutes (2012), for guidance:
Cf. § 265.565(2)(b), Fla. Stat. (2012) (defining “[l]oans,”
“loaned,” or “on loan” as referring “to property in possession of the museum
not accompanied by a transfer of title to the property or accompanied by
evidence that the lender intended to retain title to the property and to
return to take physical possession of the property in the future”) (emphasis
he did not intend to retake possession, assuming a sale were to occur, under the
logic of Ortiz, this scenario does not constitute the type of “loan,”
directly or indirectly, that would activate the provisions of section
324.021(9)(b)(3). In fact, Youngblood claimed that at the time of the accident
Aponte was not even a permissive user but had stolen or converted the vehicle to
his personal use. Therefore, giving the statutory words their plain meaning and
factoring in the jury’s finding of no theft or conversion, Aponte’s possession
of the vehicle could only emanate from a commercial consignment. Hence, section
324.021(9)(b)(3) is not applicable, and the trial court erred in applying it to
cap noneconomic damages at $100,000. Accordingly, we reverse that portion of the
judgment and remand for the trial court to enter an amended final judgment in
from the other defendants against the noneconomic damage award pursuant to
sections 46.015 and 768.041. Section 46.015(2) states the following:
At trial, if any person shows the court that the plaintiff, or his
or her legal representative, has delivered a written release or covenant not to
sue to any person in partial satisfaction of the damages sued for, the court
shall set off this amount from the amount of any judgment to which the plaintiff
would be otherwise entitled at the time of rendering judgment.4
Medical Center, Inc., 659 So. 2d 249, 253 (Fla. 1995), specifically held
that sections 46.015 and 768.041 do not apply to noneconomic damages. We
therefore reverse that portion of the judgment setting off the settlement
amounts against the noneconomic damages award and remand for the trial court to
enter an amended final judgment in accordance herewith.
consistent herewith. (CRENSHAW and MORRIS, JJ., Concur.)
Youngblood’s motion for summary judgment on the basis that she was not liable
under the mere naked title holder exception to the dangerous instrumentality
doctrine, which this court affirmed in Youngblood v. Villanueva, 57 So.
3d 859 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011) (table decision).
this court reversed the summary judgment entered in favor of Youngblood,
holding, inter alia, that there were genuine issues of material fact concerning
whether Aponte’s use of the vehicle constituted a theft or conversion. Estate
of Villanueva v. Youngblood, 927 So. 2d 955, 959-60 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006).
appeal was filed in this case, and it was not available to the trial court when
it rendered judgment.
different terminology but is the same in substance.
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