Liability in Rented Vehicle Crashes
Most people move between May and September, and with the moving season upon us, there will be more U-Haul, Ryder, and other rented large trucks on area roadways. As a general rule, these vehicles are unwieldy and difficult to drive, particularly for drivers with little or no experience in handling these trucks and who are unfamiliar with the area.
Traditional third-party liability theory does not apply in this area, thanks to an obscure federal law on the subject. However, in many cases, the vehicle’s owner or agent (normally a franchisee) may be liable for damages in a truck crash case.
The Graves Amendment
In the early 2000s, a large car rental company ceased operations in several states after a Connecticut jury ordered it to pay a huge sum of damages in a case that involved a fatal rear-end collision and a rented vehicle. The jury concluded that the vehicle rental company was negligent for renting the vehicle to a driver that it should have known was dangerous.
As a response, and to protect small businesses, Congress passed the Graves Amendment in 2005. It makes the owner (or affiliate of an owner) immune from negligence lawsuits if a driver rents a vehicle and subsequently causes a car or truck crash. The Graves Amendment seems ironclad, but there is a very large loophole.
49 USC 30106 only applies if there is “no negligence” on the part of the owner or agent. In 2005, store clerks essentially had no way to verify drivers’ licenses in a near-instant fashion. But, according to Moore’s Law, technological efficiency doubles about every year and a half, so the rental clerk of today is light years ahead of the one behind the counter ten years ago, from a technology standpoint.
Some courts impose a duty to go beyond a visual inspection and verify the validity of a drivers’ license. That duty breaks down into two components:
- Poor Driving Record: Tickets, at-fault collisions, prior license suspensions and other negative data can be evidence of negligence, in some situations; or
- Suspended License: If the driver did not have a valid license, there may be a presumption that the leasing company or agent negligently entrusted the vehicle to an unqualified driver.
Damages in a car crash case normally include compensation for both economic and noneconomic losses.
Third party liability may apply in a rented vehicle crash. For a free consultation with an experienced New Braunfels personal injury attorney, contact our office. We do not charge upfront legal fees in personal injury matters.