Frequently, U-Haul and other rental drivers have little or no insurance. Under the traditional negligent entrustment rule, vehicle owners are liable for damages if they allow incompetent operators to use their vehicles. Generally, drivers are incompetent if there was a good chance they might cause a crash. Examples include operators with poor driving records or safety-suspended licenses.
However, commercial negligent entrustment cases work a bit differently, because of the Graves Amendment. This obscure federal law gives U-Haul and other owners negligent entrustment immunity in some situations.
So, to establish owner liability in U-Haul crash claims, a Hutchinson, MN lawyer must establish some additional elements. The burden of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, a little proof goes a long way.
The Graves Amendment: A Closer Look
A key to winning any fight, be it a claim for damages or a high school football game, is sizing up your opponent. So, before the best Hutchinson, MN lawyers aggressively represent their clients, they take a step back to see what they are up against.
Tort reform is sometimes in the news. For example, Minnesota lawmakers recently limited damages in medical malpractice claims so insurance companies need not pay large sums when doctors go off the rails. The Graves Amendment is basically the same thing. It protects U-Haul and other vehicle rental companies from large liability judgments, even when these companies are clearly at fault.
It all started in the late 1990s. An Enterprise outlet in Connecticut rented a car to a clearly negligent driver. That driver killed someone in a fireball collision, and a jury awarded millions of dollars in damages. When Enterprise threatened to pull out of Connecticut and some other states with strong negligent entrustment laws, lawmakers added the Graves Aemdnement to a large transportation bill.
Like many policy riders, 49 USC 30106 is short and poorly drafted. Specifically, there are two key holes in this law which a Hutchinson, MN lawyer can use to pierce the immunity and hold these companies responsible for the mistakes they make.
Trade or Business
Under subsection (a)(1), immunity does not apply unless the owner is in the vehicle rental trade or business. Because of the aforementioned drafting problems, the Graves Amendment does not define this key phrase. So, Hutchinson, MN lawyers must look elsewhere to interpret it.
The Universal Commercial Code is a mainstay in contract law. The UCC does not define “trade or business,” but it does define “merchant,” which is a similar term. According to Article Two, merchants are:
- Dealers in a particular kind of good or service
- Who profess to have additional knowledge about the goods they sell.
Normally, a store is in a trade or business if it sells a particular kind of goods. Best Buy is an electronics store, even though it also sells home appliances, office supplies, and other non-electronics. Typically, U-Haul franchises are moving and storage companies, even though they rent a few trucks on the side.
Furthermore, the employees and franchisees at most of these locations do not have specialized knowledge about the trucks they rent. For example, they know how to turn on the air conditioner, but they could not tell you the unit’s BTU capacity.
Not Otherwise Negligent
According to section (a)(2) of the Graves Amendment, negligent entrustment immunity only applies if “there is no negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the owner (or an affiliate of the owner).”
Lawmakers approved the 49 USC 30106 in the early 2000s. Back then, it was impossible to verify an operator’s drivers’ license, aside from a visual inspection. Now, technology makes it possible to run a thorough check. In fact, such evaluations are arguably the industry standard. Owners and affiliates are negligent when they violate such standards.
How Hutchinson, MN Lawyers Establish Liability
Getting around the Graves Amendment is only part of the fight. A Hutchinson, MN lawyer must also establish the key elements of the negligent entrustment doctrine. Owners are liable for damages if they knowingly allow incompetent drivers to operate their motor vehicles. Evidence of incompetency includes:
- No drivers’ license,
- Safety-suspended drivers’ license,
- Driving in violation of license restrictions (e.g. without glasses),
- Prior safety suspensions, and
- A poor driving record.
These items are roughly in descending order. People without valid licenses are usually incompetent as a matter of law. A poor driving record, in and of itself, is probably not enough to prove negligence.
Damages in a truck crash claim usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Given the size of a fully-loaded U-Haul truck, these damages are often substantial.
Contact a Dedicated Attorney
The best injury lawyers do not let legal loopholes decide cases. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson, MN lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.