There are a number of rented vehicles, especially self-service moving trucks, on the streets and highways of South Central Texas. These trucks are often involved in car crashes, because the drivers are inexperienced and the vehicles would normally require a commercial drivers’ license. In these instances, federal law makes it difficult, but not impossible, for the victim to sue the vehicle’s owner, in addition to the negligent driver.
The Graves Amendment
In the 1990s and early 2000s, a number of states passed vicarious liability laws that applied to vehicle lessors. These laws essentially mirrored the elements of respondeat superior, by declaring that the vehicle owner was legally liable for damages caused by a vehicle lessee, at least in some cases.
Rather predictably, the vehicle rental industry strongly opposed these laws. Resistance stiffened after a Connecticut jury returned a multi-milliondollar verdict against a leasing company which then announced plans to cease doing business in the state. So, in 2005, Congress included 49 U.S.C. 30106, the “Graves Amendment,” as a last-minute attachment to an omnibus bill. There is almost no legislative history backing up the Amendment: no hearings were ever conducted and there was less than a half- hour of floor debate.
Strategies for Plaintiffs
While the Graves Amendment was probably meant to be a sweeping prohibition of vicarious liability laws, like many other last minute add-ons, it has some holes.
Section (a) states that a vehicle owner is liable for damages if:
- Not Engaged in the Business of Renting Vehicles: A large number of moving truck owners do a lot more than just rent trucks. They sell moving supplies, serve as a a facilitator for professional movers, and rent permanent storage equipment. If the company or agency derives a chunk of its revenue from these, and other services, it is arguably not engaged in the business of renting vehicles.
- Other Negligence: Many rental companies have policies in place that require their employees to verify drivers’ licenses and otherwise “check” the lessees. If these things were not done, such neglect is evidence of negligence.
In rather creative fashion, a Florida court recently used product liability analysis to circumvent the Graves Amendment.
If you were hurt in a crash, get the compensation you deserve by reaching out to an experienced personal injury attorney in New Braunfels. We do not charge upfront legal fees in a personal injury case.