Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

State Supreme Courty finds estranged spouse liable in car death

TALLAHASSEE — A man whose ex-wife had a car in both their names is still liable after she struck and killed a man with the vehicle in 2005, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Robert Christensen and his ex-wife Mary Taylor-Christensen were no longer living together, he didn't have a set of keys to the PT Cruiser and he didn't have access to the garage where she kept it. He never even saw a copy of the title because it was mailed to Taylor-Christensen's home. He did drive it once — from Taylor-Christensen's home to a carwash the day after he bought it for her during their divorce proceedings.

Then nearly two years later she struck and killed Thomas Bowen while driving drunk on Interstate 95. Bowen was changing his tire on the side of the road. Bowen's widow sued both of them and a jury originally found Christensen wasn't liable for the death caused by his ex-wife. The Supreme Court ruled that was a mistake.

Whether he used the car or not, Christensen still had the legal right to drive it or to sell it because he still had the benefits of ownership, the court wrote. And the law says a vehicle's owner shares responsibility of damage, injury or death is caused by another driver.

"When two individuals submit an application for joint ownership, each co-owner commits himself or herself to the judgment of the other and is subject to vicarious liability for the other's negligent use of the vehicle. Should a titleholder never intend to use a vehicle and wish to avoid vicarious liability, then the titleholder must divest himself or herself of any interest in the vehicle," the court wrote.

Christensen said the car was supposed to be a gift for Taylor-Christensen and that he never intended to use it. That doesn't matter, the court said. He was still legally an owner and he showed no evidence that he tried to legally give up that right.

"To divest himself of his co-ownership interest, and relieve himself from the possibility of vicarious liability, Christensen should have transferred his interest at some point after the purchase of the vehicle," the court wrote. "Christensen's non-use of the vehicle does not demonstrate that he transferred his interest in the vehicle to Taylor-Christensen."

State Supreme Courty finds estranged spouse liable in car death 04/10/14 [Last modified: Thursday, April 10, 2014 10:39pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. What you need to know for Thursday, May 25


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    To catch a ring of poachers who targeted Florida's million-dollar alligator farming industry, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set up an undercover operation. They created their own alligator farm, complete with plenty of real, live alligators, watched over by real, live undercover wildlife officers. It also had hidden video cameras to record everything that happened. That was two years ago, and on Wednesday wildlife officers announced that they arrested nine people on  44 felony charges alleging they broke wildlife laws governing alligator harvesting, transporting eggs and hatchlings across state lines, dealing in stolen property, falsifying records, racketeering and conspiracy. The wildlife commission released these photos of alligators, eggs and hatchlings taken during the undercover operation. [Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]
  2. Trigaux: Amid a record turnout, regional technology group spotlights successes, desire to do more


    ST. PETERSBURG — They came. They saw. They celebrated Tampa Bay's tech momentum.

    A record turnout event by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, held May 24 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, featured a panel of area tech executives talking about the challenges encountered during their respective mergers and acquisitions. Show, from left to right, are: Gerard Purcell, senior vice president of global IT integration at Tech Data Corp.; John Kuemmel, chief information officer at Triad Retail Media, and Chris Cate, chief operating officer at Valpak. [Robert Trigaux, Times]
  3. Take 2: Some fear Tampa Bay Next transportation plan is TBX redux


    TAMPA — For many, Wednesday's regional transportation meeting was a dose of deja vu.

    The Florida Department of Transportation on Monday announced that it was renaming its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan will now be known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. But the plan remains the same: spend $60 billion to add 90 miles of toll roads to bay area interstates that are currently free of tolls. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  4. Hailed as 'pioneers,' students from St. Petersburg High's first IB class return 30 years later


    ST. PETERSBURG — The students came from all over Pinellas County, some enduring hot bus rides to a school far from home. At first, they barely knew what to call themselves. All they knew was that they were in for a challenge.

    Class of 1987 alumni Devin Brown, from left, and D.J. Wagner, world history teacher Samuel Davis and 1987 graduate Milford Chavous chat at their table.
  5. Flower boxes on Fort Harrison in Clearwater to go, traffic pattern to stay


    I travel Fort Harrison Avenue in Clearwater often and I've noticed that the travel lanes have been rerouted to allow for what looks like flower boxes that have been painted by children. There are also a few spaces that push the travel lane to the center that have no boxes. Is this a permanent travel lane now? It …