One fine Friday morning, David drove into Minneapolis to spend a weekend with his son, who was a sophomore at the University of Minnesota. Unbeknownst to David, Frank was also in town for the weekend. He landed in MSP that morning and rented a car. But Frank had almost no idea where he was driving, so he paid more attention to his GPS device than the road. Frank missed a stoplight and t-boned David’s car in an intersection. The impact left David in critical condition with a head injury.
The doctors did everything they could to save David. Alas, he passed away after ten days in the intensive care unit.
Losing their husband and father was tragic enough. But David’s family also learned that Frank declined the insurance on the rental agreement, even though he had a spotty driving record. They wisely turn to a Buffalo car accident lawyer for help, but their expectations are low.
Can a Buffalo Car Accident Lawyer Pay Medical Bills?
David’s medical bills are probably immense, so taking care of them is probably the family’s immediate concern. Ten days of ICU care will probably be over $100,000, and the complex head injury treatments may add another $100,000. There are other expenses as well, such as medication and supplies, and these costs add up.
Hopefully, David had life insurance which may put a dent in this bill. More than likely, since David was hurt in a car accident, his health insurance company will not pay anything. So, the family is left holding the bag, at least for the most part.
To take care of this immediate problem, Buffalo car accident lawyers send letters of protection to medical providers. So, providers defer their bills until the case is resolved. In other words, David’s family pays nothing for his medical treatment until they get their settlement money.
Is Frank Able to Pay Damages?
This settlement could be substantial. In addition to David’s medical bills and his pain and suffering, the family is also entitled to compensation for things like funeral expenses, lost future financial support, and lost future emotional support. Additionally, they may also be entitled to compensation for their own grief and sorrow over their loss.
It appears that Frank was clearly negligent. Emergency responders almost certainly faulted him for the accident. Additionally, distraction is one of the five types of driving impairment.
But establishing liability is only part of the puzzle. Since Frank was not driving his personal vehicle at the time of the crash, his auto insurance policy will probably deny coverage. There is a good chance that Frank had additional umbrella coverage. But for purposes of this post, we’ll assume he did not.
If any tortfeasor (negligent driver) is uninsured or under-insured and there is no umbrella coverage, it’s usually possible to file a claim against the individual as opposed to the insurance company. But many people are effectively judgment proof. So, a Buffalo car accident lawyer usually needs to find another way.
Can the Family Sue the Rental Car Company?
Negligent entrustment may be available. To prevail on this claim, David’s family must prove that Frank was an incompetent driver. There is substantial evidence of incompetence in this case, to-wit:
- Frank had a poor driving record. Let’s assume that included a prior safety suspension and three at-fault collisions.
- Frank did not know his way around Minneapolis, so he over-relied on his GPS navigation aid.
In court, David’s family must only establish incompetency by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
However, there is a major problem. The Graves Amendment protects many vehicle rental companies from negligent entrustment claims. This provision was an add-on to a large transportation bill, so it went under the radar. Like many such add-ons, it is short, completely unsupported by any hearings or other legislative history, and rather poorly drafted. In fact, the Graves Amendment has two big exceptions:
- Trade or Business: For immunity to apply, the defendant must be in the trade or businesses of vehicle leasing. If Frank rented his car from Enterprise or some other provider, that company is probably immune. But if Frank rented his vehicle from a car dealer that rents some cars on the side, the trade or business requirement might be absent.
- Not Otherwise Negligent: Arguably, verifying driving records before a commercial rental is now the industry standard. Violating this standard is evidence of negligence. So, if the clerk allowed Frank to rent a car with no questions asked, liability could attach.
Other third-party liability theories include employer liability and dram shop liability. Employers are generally responsible for the negligent acts of their employees, and commercial alcohol providers are sometimes responsible for the wrecks their impaired patrons cause.
Reach Out to an Experienced Car Accident Attorney in Buffalo
Even if things look bleak, legal options are almost always available. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo car accident lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle cases in Wright County and nearby jurisdictions.