Many U-Haul, Ryder, and other rental moving trucks weigh about 30,000 pounds. When these massive vehicles are involved in car crashes, the injuries can be catastrophic. Such wrecks are all too common, as these vehicles usually require a commercial license to drive.
Unfortunately, many moving truck rental tortfeasors (negligent drivers) have little or no insurance. So, it could be difficult for victims to obtain fair compensation.
In most borrowed vehicle cases, the negligent entrustment rule applies. Owners are liable for damages if they knowingly allow incompetent individuals to operate their motor vehicles. But an obscure federal law called the Graves Amendment makes these cases more difficult to win. Fortunately, an experienced Rockford personal injury attorney knows how to get around the Graves Amendment.
What is the Graves Amendment?
In 2005, lawmakers added what later became 49 U.S. Code § 30106 to a large omnibus transportation bill. A few months earlier, a large vehicle rental company threatened to pull out of several states that had strong negligent entrustment laws. Congressman Sam Graves (D-MO) introduced this bill to prevent that from happening.
Like many policy riders, there is no legislative history in support of the Graves Amendment. So, it’s difficult to interpret. Also like many policy riders, it’s very brief. As a result, the supposedly ironclad provision has a number of flaws.
The “Trade or Business” Requirement
Section (a) states that a vehicle owner that is in the “trade or business” of renting vehicles is not liable for damages if a vehicle lessee causes a car crash. But the brief Graves Amendment does not define this key term.
In the absence of a statutory definition, attorneys must look to the ordinary meaning of a phrase. The Uniform Commercial Code, which is used in many defective product cases, defines “merchant,” which is similar to trade or business. Under the UCC definition, most vehicle rental outlets do not meet the trade or business requirement. The merchant definition has two prongs:
- Dealer in Kind: Many vehicle renters are essentially moving companies which have a few trucks in the parking lot available for rent. They do not derive most of their business from vehicle rentals, so they are not dealers in this kind of good.
- Specialized Knowledge: The UCC states that merchants are people who have specialized knowledge about a certain type of good. That’s usually not true with regard to vehicle rental agencies. Outside of basic operation, most of these people know nothing about the trucks they rent.
If the vehicle lessor was not in the trade or business of renting vehicles, Graves Amendment immunity does not apply. So, airport rental car agencies and other such businesses are probably immune, but most moving truck rental providers do not meet this standard.
“Not Otherwise Negligent”
In 2005, there was no way to verify a customer’s driver’s license beyond a visual inspection. Now, that technology exists. In fact, the technology is so widespread that drivers’ license verification is arguably the industry standard. Violation of these standards is a presumption of negligence.
Typically, if the lessee had a suspended drivers’ license, the lessor is liable for damages as a matter of law. If the lessee had a bad driving record but a valid license, the victim/plaintiff might need to introduce additional evidence.
Count on Tenacious Attorneys
Compensation in rented moving truck cases is still available despite the Graves Amendment roadblock. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Rockford, contact Fisk & Monteleone, Ltd. Our attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.