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Are Rental Companies Liable for Accidents Involving Their Vehicles?


There are many scenarios where a car or truck accident is the fault of a driver who is not the owner of his or her vehicle. In many cases, the owner may still be responsible for the accident victim’s injuries under a legal principle known as vicarious liability. For example, if a salesman is driving a company-owned car to an appointment, runs a red light, and crashes into another vehicle in the intersection, is the employer liable? Under vicarious liability, the answer is “yes,” since the employee was acting as the employer’s agent at the time of the accident.

Rental Truck Owner Off-the-Hook for Memphis Accident

Now let’s consider a different type of relationship: a person driving a rented or leased vehicle. Recently, a federal court in Memphis addressed just such a case. The plaintiff was driving her car one day in October 2016 when a commercial diesel truck side-swiped her.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit that named a number of defendants, including the driver of the truck and his employer, as well as the company that owned the vehicle. The owner is a Delaware-based entity that is the business of leasing commercial trucks. The owner leased the truck in question to the driver’s employer, but there was no direct legal relationship between the owner and the driver.

The judge overseeing the case dismissed the truck’s owner as a defendant. The reason for this has to do with a federal law known as the Graves Amendment. In 2005, Congress passed the Graves Amendment–named for the Missouri congressman who sponsored it–which declares that the “owner of a motor vehicle that rents or leases the vehicle to a person (or an affiliate of the owner) shall not be liable” under state law for any personal injury claim arising from the “use, operation, or possession” of said vehicle.

There are two important caveats to the Graves Amendment. First, the owner must be “engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles.” In other words, this amendment only protects car and truck rental companies. Second, the Graves Amendment offers no protection against “negligence or criminal wrongdoing” directly on the part of the owner.

Unfortunately for the plaintiff in this case, the judge said there was no “independent” negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the truck owner. And there was no evidence of any “agency relationship” between the driver, who worked for a separate employer, and the owner. This means that as far as the Graves Amendment is concerned, the truck owner cannot be held vicariously liable.

Speak with a Tennessee Trucking Accident Lawyer Today

Sorting out liability following a commercial trucking accident is often a complicated exercise, as there are multiple parties that may own, lease, or otherwise bear some responsibility for the vehicle. This is why you should always work with a qualified Gatlinburg truck accident attorney who can guide you through the legal process. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, if you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident and require immediate legal assistance.



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