Over the last decade, hundreds of people have been killed or seriously injured in a vehicle wreck that involved a rented moving truck or a rented passenger vehicle. In some cases, especially concerning moving trucks, the drivers may be operating large machinery that normally requires a commercial driver’s license. In other cases, such as those involving leased passenger vehicles, the drivers are unfamiliar with the surroundings, meaning that their attention is divided between navigation and operation.
Under a traditional approach to third-party liability, like respondeat superior or dram shop liability, the owner should be responsible for the damages that are caused in a vehicle wreck. But leased and rented vehicles are not in this category.
In 2005, lawmakers slipped an obscure provision into an omnibus bill. 49 U.S.C. 30106 became known as the “Graves Amendment,” after its sponsor, Congressman Sam Graves (D-MO). The issue came up because large vehicle leasing companies threatened to stop operating in states like Minnesota, which had vicarious liability statutes. So, in the opinion of many people, the Graves Amendment is yet another example of government siding with big business and sacrificing public safety.
As is often the case with last-minute add-ons, Congress conducted no committee hearings in support of the Graves Amendment, and the law itself is very brief. It states that an owner or affiliate is not liable for personal injury or property damages that are caused by a negligent lessee. But that blanket protection is not as broad as it appears to be.
The Graves Amendment does not preempt, or cancel out, all state laws in this area. In fact, a provision in Section 601 of the Texas Transportation Code, which is the main financial responsibility law, arguably makes “owners” analogous with “lessees,” at least in some cases.
Moreover, the text itself creates liability in many cases.
- Other negligence: According to Section (a)(2), the owner or affiliate must not be otherwise negligent. Many companies have written policies that require driving record verification, as opposed to a mere visual license inspection. If such a policy is in place and the lessee is a bad driver, the company may still be liable for car crash damages.
- Nature of business: The affiliate or owner must also be engaged in the “trade or business” of vehicle leasing. Many diverse companies do not meet this definition.
Victims in these cases, when successful, are entitled to compensation for both their economic and noneconomic damages. For prompt assistance in this area, contact an experienced New Braunfels personal injury attorney. You have a limited amount of time to act.