Who’s Responsible In Tampa Rented Vehicle Crashes?
Many people who fly into Tampa International Airport and other such facilities almost immediately head for the rental car counter. Afterwards, they often drive unfamiliar vehicles through unfamiliar areas. It’s hard enough to drive in Tampa Bay when conditions are ideal; when conditions are less than ideal, it’s almost impossible to not encounter some kind of difficulty.
U-Haul, Ryder, and other rented moving trucks are mobile red flags as well. Even the most inexperienced driver can borrow a vehicle so large that it almost requires a commercial driver’s license, and then drive that vehicle across long distances at odd hours. Once again, the stage is set for a serious vehicle collision.
Under traditional owner third-party liability theories, like negligent entrustment, vehicle owners (in these cases, the vehicle rental companies) are responsible for many of the damages that their customers negligently cause. But due to the Graves Amendment, that’s usually not the case in commercial negligent entrustment cases.
What is the Graves Amendment, and Why Did Lawmakers Pass the It?
49 USC 30106 is part of the ongoing “tort reform” effort. This label implies that Florida’s tort (negligence) laws are broken and must be reformed. Tort reform has almost nothing to do with fixing broken laws and almost everything to do with protecting massive insurance company profits. In fact, any proper “reform” at all needs to further protect consumers’ right of access to the Courts and to punish insurance companies who cheat their customers and harm the Florida public.
Most tort reform efforts involve procedural obstacles that make it more difficult for victims to file injury claims, or damage caps that reduce compensation in the event these claims are successful. The Graves Amendment is in the former category.
Several years ago, a non-Florida jury ordered a rental car company to pay damages after a deadly fireball collision. Rather than take steps to help ensure that such a tragedy did not occur again, the company threatened to shut down in that state and several others with strong liability laws.
In 2005, at the behest of Rep. Sam Graves (D-Missouri), lawmakers attached a policy rider to a large transportation bill. The Graves Amendment is designed to shield companies from liability in these situations.
Getting Around the Graves Amendment
Like many last-minute add-ons, the Graves Amendment is poorly drafted and has essentially no interpretive legislative history. So, attorneys must determine what the Graves Amendment means and how it really applies.
Section (a)(1) says that an owner or affiliate is not liable in Florida rented vehicle collision cases if the defendant was in the “trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles.” The law does not define this key phrase. Under Florida’s Uniform Commercial Code, a “merchant,” which is a similar term, is a person that deals exclusively in a certain kind of business and/or holds himself out as someone who has special knowledge or skill.
By that definition, most small vehicle rental companies in Tampa do not qualify. Many of these firms are essentially moving supply companies which have a couple of trucks for rent. Moreover, the people who work in these establishments have no special knowledge about the vehicles, other than how to start and stop them.
Furthermore, under Section (a)(2), there must be “no negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the owner (or an affiliate of the owner)” for immunity to attach. Back in 2005, almost no vehicle rental companies verified driver’s licenses and driving records, because that technology did not exist. Today, that’s not the case, and it is arguably negligent for an owner or affiliate to rent a vehicle to someone with a safety suspended license or a poor driving record.
Contact Aggressive Lawyers
Commercial negligent entrustment cases are difficult, but certainly not impossible, to win. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Tampa, contact The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. Since 1976, The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. has been committed to protecting the rights of the injured. Home and hospital visits are available.