How the Graves Amendment Impacts Your Vehicle Accident Case
- February 17, 2023 |
- Car Accidents
What Is the Graves Amendment?
Accidents Happen All of the Time
Unfortunately, accidents on our roadways occur frequently, and they often have life-altering impacts. Victims are traumatized by these experiences which can result in significant financial and emotional costs. Time and time again, we have been told that if we were in an accident due to the negligence of another person or entity, we would have the opportunity to recover our expenses through a personal injury lawsuit.
In Massachusetts and around the country this is generally true — but there are exceptions that are unfamiliar to many. As we all know, no two accidents are exactly alike, and in some cases there are entities that may not be held liable for your damages.
When President George Bush signed the “Safe Accountable Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005” into law, he effectively altered the liability of vehicle rental organizations, placing those injured in accidents in an even more challenging position.
If you have been in an accident with a rental vehicle, engaging the services of a seasoned personal injury attorney experienced in handling car accident cases is wise.
You may have options, but you should not hesitate. Time is always important, and you want to have it on your side.
The car accident lawyers at The Cava Law Firm know the law and are experienced in managing cases regarding accidents with rental vehicles.
Understanding the Graves Amendment
Legislation Impacting Car Accident Victims
As an individual without a legal background, it is likely you have never heard of The Graves Amendment. Yet, this decades-old legislation changed the way liability works in certain vehicle accident personal injury cases. Let us take a moment to better understand the law and its history.
The likely reason why you are unfamiliar with this amendment is the single fact that it only applies to accidents in very specific situations — those involving rental vehicles. So, if you collide with a car or truck owned by an individual or organization, even if the driver at fault is driving a borrowed car, you can pursue a personal injury settlement in the traditional way, without concern for this law.
However, since 2005 when The Graves Amendment was signed into law as part of a larger bill, obtaining damages when accidents occur with rental vehicles has become increasingly challenging.
This amendment, which was initially introduced by Republican Representative Sam Graves of Missouri, was designed to reduce costs (which he estimated to be $100 million annually) to consumers of the rental vehicle industry. This act prohibits those injured in a collision with a driver of a rental vehicle from suing the rental company itself for damages unless there were negligent issues with the vehicle (including poor maintenance). Under the assumption that the car or truck was cared for appropriately, the only liable party is the driver. This can prove problematic, as not all drivers carry adequate insurance.
The Graves Amendment & Rental Car Liability
Who Does This Law Protect?
You may be wondering who The Graves Amendment protects. The short answer: companies that rent vehicles — both cars and trucks.
First, we will consider the rental car industry. There are over 17,000 car rental businesses nationally, with an inventory of millions of vehicles. The industry has rebounded since 2020 when it was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and is incredibly profitable.
Prior to 2005, rental car companies like Hertz, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise could be held liable when renters of their vehicles were at fault in an accident on the road. One example of this occurred in New York City, when Budget Rental Car was held liable for $21 million when a 25-year-old was hit by an individual driving one of the rental company’s vehicles. The company was found guilty of vicarious liability.
Another segment of the industry impacted by The Graves Amendment is the rental truck industry, specifically companies like U-Haul. If you have ever moved something yourself, or know someone who has, this company’s name should be familiar to you. Those who wish to move themselves can rent their trucks and vans, resulting in major savings over engaging professional movers. But, it also can be dangerous.
You see, many U-Haul renters have never driven a truck or van before. These vehicles are larger and much heavier than most cars. They are challenging to maneuver and, when in an accident, can cause extensive damage and catastrophic injury.
Additionally, not everyone who rents a U-Haul is fully (or even appropriately) insured, leaving those injured in accidents unable to collect the settlements they so badly need. Because the Graves Amendment protects the company in these situations, obtaining a reasonable settlement can be difficult, if not impossible.
It is clear to see how The Graves Amendment protects corporate vehicle rental organizations.
The settlements they were paying prior to 2005 were considerable and had a very real impact on their profitability. In order to counter this, they passed the costs along to the customer.
You May Be Impacted
What Is the Graves Amendment and How Does it Affect Massachusetts Car Accident Victims?
When initially introduced, The Graves Amendment was tied to a national law, which makes sense. After all, rental vehicles are not mandated to stay within state lines; in fact, people drive from state to state and even across the country when they rent cars.
Thus, if you are in a vehicular accident in Massachusetts, The Graves Amendment may impact you if the driver of the other car or truck was operating a rental. Depending upon the circumstances, you may not be able to sue the rental company for damages.
How Your Massachusetts Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
Because The Graves Amendment is national in scope, it overrides state laws regarding liability. Many involved in accidents with rental vehicles face an uphill challenge when looking for compensation. That said, if you are a victim of a vehicular accident in Massachusetts, and the other individual was driving a rental vehicle, you should not assume that you have no recourse. In fact, a skilled personal injury attorney specializing in car and truck accidents can review your case and let you know the appropriate avenues to pursue regarding a settlement.
It is important to recognize that it is possible to hold these companies responsible for the actions of their employees.
If the accident you were in was caused by poor vehicle maintenance by the rental company, they can be held liable for damages.
One important part to understanding The Graves Amendment is the knowledge that it leverages the Uniform Commercial Code. This means that the organizations which it protects must be in the primary businesses of vehicle rentals. Thus, while the major car rental companies like Hertz are protected, the law is less clear about other organizations which rent or loan vehicles but do not do it as their primary source of revenue. For example, many car dealerships provide loaners when servicing customers’ vehicles.
The Uniform Commercial Code also impacts U Haul and other truck rental companies. You see, while some of these organizations are strictly rental companies, others are full-service moving companies, which also happen to rent their trucks. They may not be entitled to the full protection of this act.
Finally, advances in technology have made it possible for rental companies to check drivers license records and avoid renting to those who have a greater chance of endangering others (those who have a suspended license or history of bad driving). If a rental company neglects to check their records or ignores the available information and does business with them anyway and an accident occurs, they may be held liable.
A skilled car accident lawyer understands The Graves Amendment and how it impacts accident victims. They can leverage their knowledge and experience to identify loopholes and help them get the settlements to which they are entitled.
Get the Legal Help You Need
The Personal Injury Attorneys at Cava Law Firm Can Make a Difference
Individuals involved in car and truck accidents face painful recoveries and often astronomical expenses. A seasoned car accident attorney can review their situations and help them pursue settlements.
Clearly, if you were in an accident with a driver who was operating a rental vehicle, getting the compensation you need may be challenging. Engaging a reputable car accident attorney who is experienced in handling cases involving rental cars is vital. This professional can leverage their experience and identify and present evidence to prove that the rental organization is, in fact, liable for damages.
If you are a victim of an accident, acting quickly is important.
You want to provide your attorney with the opportunity to investigate and gather evidence while it is still readily available.
Cava Law Firm has decades of experience serving those in Springfield and the surrounding areas. Our team’s knowledge of personal injury law and The Graves Amendment is significant; we work hard on behalf of our clients, leveraging all the resources of our firm. Winning is NO accident!
Reach out to us today at (413) 737-3430 or (413) 781-CAVA (2282) for a free consultation. We can explain more about The Graves Amendment, rental car liability and personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.