Thursday, January 19, 2012

Farm Tractors Are Dangerous Instrumentalities -- Who Knew?



I love the dangerous instrumentality doctrine.

Like the doctrine of proximate cause, it's a -- yes -- apodictic rule of law, logical in its formulation and execution, that arose in part from early 20th century innovations in technology but which makes perfect sense in 21st Century jurisprudence.

The 1st DCA, however, was unwilling to find that a farm tractor is a dangerous instrumentality.

Today the Florida Supreme Court said, "huh"?
James Earl Rippy seeks review of the decision of the First District Court of Appeal in Rippy v. Shepard, 15 So. 3d 921 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009), which held that a farm tractor is not a dangerous instrumentality as a matter of law. In so holding, the district court rejected Rippy‟s contentions that, because a farm tractor is a motor vehicle and because it is of such size and character as to be peculiarly dangerous in its operation, a farm tractor is a dangerous instrumentality. The First District‟s opinion conflicts with our precedent set forth in Meister v. Fisher, 462 So. 2d 1071, 1072 (Fla. 1984), where we held that the dangerous instrumentality doctrine can apply to motor vehicles other than automobiles that have the ability tocause serious injury, and Southern Cotton Oil Co. v. Anderson, 86 So. 629, 636 (Fla. 1920), where we concluded that the weight, speed, and mechanism of an automobile or motor vehicle make it peculiarly dangerous when in operation. We have jurisdiction based on the misapplication of these decisions. See art. V, § 3(b)(3), Fla. Const.; see also Wallace v. Dean, 3 So. 3d 1035, 1040 (Fla. 2009) (identifying misapplication of decisions as a basis for express and direct conflict jurisdiction under article V, section 3(b)(3)). As we will explain more fully below, we conclude that a farm tractor is a dangerous instrumentality. Accordingly, we quash the decision of the First District in Rippy.
Justice Polston, however, dissents because farm tractors are usually on private property:
In this case, based upon the doctrine‟s focus on the primary use of the instrumentality and the resulting danger to the public, the First District properly observed that farm tractors “are neither used as a mode of transportation nor routinely operated in public places as to pose a sufficient danger to the public.” Rippy v. Shepard, 15 So. 3d 921, 923 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009). In contrast, the majority erroneously finds the doctrine applicable even though farm tractors are primarily used on private property, not around the public, and the farm tractor in this case was being used on private property.
 Justice Polston has evidently never driven the back roads between Orlando and Gainesville.

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