Who do I Have a Claim Against if I am in an Accident With a Moving Truck?

white moving truckIn Texas, early summer is usually moving season. The kids are out of school, spring storms have passed, and the oppressive heat is still a few weeks away. To save money, many people rent their own box trucks from Ryder, U-Haul, and other commercial entities. But if you are in an accident with a moving truck, who is your claim against?

Large trucks normally require commercial driver’s licenses.  Many truck rental companies such as U-Haul, however, do not. On their website, U-Haul list the only qualifications to rent from them is that you must have a valid driver’s license and be: 16 to rent a trailer, and; 18 to rent a truck. They are not considered commercial motor vehicles despite their size.

Normally, if an owner of a vehicle, allows an incompetent driver to use its vehicle, and that incompetent person causes a car crash, the owner is vicariously liable for damages. This theory is called negligent entrustment. But commercial negligent entrustment cases work a bit differently, because of an obscure federal law known as the Graves Amendment.  That law protects companies that lease vehicles from liability for entrusting the vehicle unless you can show actual negligence on the part of the lessor. Since State law only requires that the person have a valid driver’s license, U-Haul cannot be held liable under a negligence theory for not requiring the person to have some experience or training driving a large truck.

Graves Amendment Background

In the early 2000s, car crash victims filed claims against Enterprise and a few other leasing companies. The victims alleged that these companies loaned vehicles to drivers and did not ask many questions. So, they asserted, the companies were legally responsible for the damages. Jury after jury agreed.

Rather than change their procedures, Enterprise and its ilk threatened to take their marbles and go home. These companies said they would stop doing business in certain states unless these jurisdictions changed their laws.

So, in 2005, Congressman Sam Graves (D-MO) attached an obscure policy rider to a large transportation bill. After almost no dilberation, Congress approved the Graves Amendment and then-President George W. Bush signed the measure into law.

It’s important to bypass the Graves Amendment if possible. Typically, people who rent moving trucks have little or no commercial insurance.

The “Trade or Business” Loophole

If the truck is being used to move, but the truck’s owner was not actually in the business of leasing it out to the public, the statute does not apply. 49 U.S.C. 30106 states that immunity only applies if the vehicle owner was in the trade or business of leasing vehicles.  This may be the case where an employee of a trucking company or other business borrows a company truck to use to move. If they are not in the leasing business, they are not protected under this law.

Negligent Entrustment by Rental Companies

Additionally, for immunity to apply under the Graves Amendment, the agent must not have been negligent. This raises the question of whether a negligent entrust may be pursued. There are generally two types of negligent entrustment theories that arise when dealing with moving truck rental companies: those wherein the actual lessor gets in a crash and those where the lessor loans the vehicle to another who gets in a crash. If you are in an accident with a moving truck, it is important to understand both situations.

Crashes Involving Car Renters

In the early 2000s, there was no way to verify a customer’s drivers’ license outside of a visual inspection. A commercial agent could not tell if the person had a good driving record or a bad driving record. In fact, the agent could not tell for sure that the license was valid. The state may have suspended it for safety reasons.

That’s not true anymore. Such technology is readily available. In fact, many rental car companies require a driving history check. However, despite the ease in which a check may be run, the law has generally held that presentation of a valid driver’s license is the only check into a driver’s qualification that the rental car companies are required to do.

Further, under a negligent entrustment theory, if the operator’s license was suspended, the driver is incompetent as a matter of law. However, if the operator had a bad driving record, liability may depend upon whether the rental company had knowledge of this record. The victim/plaintiff usually needs to introduce more evidence on this point.  

When the Lessor is not the Person Driving the Moving Truck

We have also seen many rental vehicle cases where the person who rented the vehicle is not the person driving. The lessor, in effect, re-entrusts the vehicle to another who is not named on the agreement. In general, if the rental company is unaware that the vehicle is to be re-entrusted to another, the company is off the hook.  So the question is was the moving truck rental company aware?

In more than one case we have found that the person who rented a vehicle did so with the intent of re-loaning the car out to someone who was unlicensed or could not pass a driving record check. We have seen rental companies that specifically decline someone for their driving history and tell them to have a relative rent the truck for them.

Clearly when a moving truck is rented under the above facts, the moving truck company is  aware that an incompetent driver–according to their own standards–is the intended recipient of the vehicle. Therefore, when the moving truck company is denying coverage or there is not enough insurance provided, iit is important to have a knowledgeable attorney who will question the person operating the moving truck involved in the crash regarding why they rented the vehicle, when it was discussed, and who was present.

Hire an Experienced Attorney

If you are injured in an accident with a rented moving truck truck, you may be able to hold the rental company liable in addition to the driver. You should consult a personal injury attorney with experience in rental truck cases so that the right questions are asked to establish exceptions to the rental companies’ liability shields. For a free consultation with an attorney experienced in handling rental truck and vehicle cases,  contact Simmons & Fletcher, P.C.at 1-800-298-0111.

 

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Author

Christopher Fletcher

Christopher K. Fletcher has been practicing law since 2009. He attended Baylor University School of Law and graduated with a special concentration in Civil Litigation. Since then, he has dedicated his career to representing personal injury victims. Chris was named Top 40 Under 40 by the National Trial Lawyers in 2017, 2018 and 2019.