You’ve probably never asked this question, but it’s a very important one this time of year. The period between October and May is usually the busiest time of year for moving. Summer is extreme in many parts of the country, and summer moving is always more expensive than fall or spring moves.
That interesting fact does not explain why this question is important, but we’re getting there. Many U-Haul, Ryder, and other rented moving trucks are large vehicles that normally require commercial licenses. Yet most business owners rent these monsters to anyone with a valid credit card. These vehicles are difficult enough to drive if the operator concentrates on driving. But many of these individuals have one eye on the road and one eye on their GPS navigation devices.
For years and years, if these drivers caused car crashes, the vehicle owner may have been vicariously liable for damages. These damages could be substantial, as large truck crashes usually cause wrongful death and other catastrophic injuries. The 2005 Graves Amendment purported to change all that. But is it possible for a Buffalo, MN car accident lawyer to get around the Graves Amendment?
Why Does All This Matter?
This post has a lot of questions, doesn’t it? Hopefully, it will provide a few answers as well.
A fully-loaded 26’ moving truck weighs at least 22,000 pounds. That’s not much lighter than a semi-truck. SO, when these trucks are involved in collisions, they usually cause extremely serious injuries, like:
Serious Burns: That same truck carries sixty gallons of diesel fuel. Diesel burns at a different temperature from gasoline. So, diesel fuel explosions nearly always cause third or fourth-degree burns. These injuries are often fatal.
Crushed Bones: A mid-sized moving truck can basically crush most cars. So, the victims’ bones are usually crushed as well. That injury usually means extensive corrective surgery as well as painful physical rehabilitation.
Internal Injuries: These same forces cause internal organs to grind against one another. With no protective layers, these organs usually bleed profusely. And, it may be quite some time before doctors find and stop this bleeding.
These injuries often trigger medical bills that are in the tens of thousands of dollars. These wounds usually mean significant pain and suffering as well. A Buffalo, MN car accident lawyer can obtain compensation for all these damages.
Typically, the tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) private auto insurance companies will not cover these losses. Such policies only cover losses in a specific vehicle. Furthermore, during the rental transaction, many moving truck renters decline insurance altogether or opt for the cheapest and lowest coverage.
Under the traditional negligent entrustment theory mentioned above, the company that owned the vehicle would probably be responsible for damages. If that option is unavailable, it could mean that the victim has no recovery source.
Why Did Lawmakers Pass the Graves Amendment?
Tariffs and trade protectionism have been in the news some lately. Additional taxes on imported goods make domestically-produced goods cheaper and therefore more in demand. Basically the same principle applies to the Graves Amendment. But instead of using money to protect the vehicle rental industry, the people who wrote the Graves Amendment used the law.
Shortly before lawmakers passed 49 U.S. Code § 30106, a major vehicle rental company threatened to pull out of several states with victim-friendly vicarious liability laws, like a broad negligent entrustment rule. The Graves Amendment was designed to appease these corporate suits.
But the provision itself is very short. Furthermore, there are no hearings or other legislative history in support of the Graves Amendment. So, the provision is full of holes that a Buffalo, MN car accident lawyer can exploit.
Can a Buffalo, MN Car Accident Lawyer Bypass the Graves Amendment?
Section (a) is the meat of this law. Ironically, the provisions designed to give it teeth are also the provisions that may cripple this law.
(a)(1) contains the trade or business requirement. The Graves Amendment does not define this phrase, so attorneys must look for a definition elsewhere. The Uniform Commercial Code, which is used in legal cases, defines a “merchant” as “a person who deals in goods of the kind or otherwise by his occupation holds himself out as having knowledge or skill.”
Many businesses that rent moving trucks are not vehicle rental companies. They are moving companies which happen to rent a few trucks as well. Arguably, the lessor in a car crash case may not meet this key requirement.
(a)(2) contains the not otherwise negligent requirement. In 2005, no vehicle lessors conducted electronic drivers’ license checks. The technological tools were unavailable. Now, some thirteen years later, that’s no longer the case. Indeed, according to many, verifying drivers’ licenses is now the industry standard.
Some states have a set method here. Generally, a suspended drivers’ license makes the operator incompetent as a matter of law. If the operator has a poor driving record, and the vehicle lessor knows about the poor record, there is a presumption of incompetence.
The negligent entrustment rule applies if an owner knowingly entrusts a vehicle to an incompetent driver. So, if the lessor verifies the license, learns about the bad driving record, completes the transaction, and the lessee causes a car crash, the lessor is negligent. If the lessor did not verify the license, the lessor is also negligent.
Team Up with a Hard-Working Attorney
The protectionist Graves Amendment may not protect the companies it was supposed to protect. For a free consultation with an experienced car accident lawyer in Buffalo, MN, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle cases in Wright County and nearby jurisdictions.