Statistically, most people move between May and September. So, we are now well into the biggest moving time of the year. Many people try to save money by renting U-Haul or other moving trucks and handling most everything themselves. As a result, it’s not too unusual to see several of these trucks on area roads at any given time. These operators have little experience driving large trucks and often over-rely on GPS navigation devices. So, in short, they are dangerous.
Since these operators do not own these vehicles, the traditional negligent entrustment rule would seem to apply. This doctrine holds vehicle owners, like U-Haul, responsible for car crash damages if the loan their property to incompetent drivers who cause accidents. But the Graves Amendment, an obscure piece of federal legislation, changes things significantly, as outlined below.
Many vehicle renters have little or no insurance. So, if you were hurt in a U-Haul truck crash, it’s important to obtain compensation from the company. Fortunately, a good Brainerd, MN injury lawyer has some was to get around the Graves Amendment and get victims the compensation they need and deserve. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
The Negligent Entrustment Rule
Negligent entrustment is one of the most common vicarious liability theories in Minnesota. Most of these cases involve teen drivers, and Minnesota has a very broad family purpose doctrine. If a family member was using a car fro a family purpose, even if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) took a side trip and the vehicle owner did not know about the trip, family-sanctioned use is presumed. So, a Brainerd, MN injury lawyer must only prove incompetence. Evidence of incompetence, in roughly descending order, includes:
- No drivers’ license,
- Safety-suspended drivers’ license,
- Poor driving record with recent at-fault collisions,
- Driving in violation of a license restriction, like no night driving, and
- Poor driving record with older collisions which were the other driver’s fault.
Note that a drivers’ license record check can uncover evidence of incompetency. This area is rather significant in terms of the first Graves Amendment loophole.
Brainerd, MN Injury Lawyers and the “Not Otherwise Negligent” Requirement
Lawmakers approved the Graves Amendment in the early 2000s. Rep. Sam Graves (D-MO) wanted to protect Enterprise, U-Haul, and other such companies from liability judgments by making the negligent entrustment rule inapplicable in these cases.
Back then, it was almost impossible to run a drivers’ license check outside the DMV, except for very limited purposes. Now, technology and privacy laws have changed. Arguably, it is now the industry standard at places like U-Haul outlets to independently verify drivers’ licenses. Failure to adhere to an industry standard is typically negligence.
Section (a)(2) of the Graves Amendment states immunity only applies if the owner or agent was not negligent during the U-Haul rental transaction. Given the drivers’ license developments mentioned above, agents or owners who only perform visual license inspections are probably negligent.
The “Trade or Business” Requirement
Furthermore, under Section (a)(1), immunity only applies if the store was “engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles.” The brief Graves Amendment was an add-on to a large federal transportation bill. Curiously, the law defines some key terms, like “owner” and “agent,” but it does not define “trade or business.” So, Brainerd, MN injury lawyers must look elsewhere to determine its meaning.
The Uniform Commercial Code, which is frequently cited in legal claims, defines a “merchant,” which is similar, as a person with special knowledge about a particular product who deals in that particular kind of product. This definition does not apply to most U-Haul retailers.
Most of these retailers are moving supply companies that happen to rent a few trucks. Vehicle rental is not their primary business line. Additionally, almost no U-Haul workers have special knowledge about the trucks on the lot. They know how to drive them, but that’s about it.
In court, the insurance company/U-Haul company usually has the burden of proof on this point. Its lawyers must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Graves Amendment immunity applies. Given this discussion, that showing is unlikely.
Connect with a Hard-Hitting Attorney
The negligent entrustment rule usually applies in U-Haul crashes, despite the Graves Amendment. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd, MN injury lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. You have a limited amount of time to act.