A pedestrian seriously injured after being struck by a rental car has won the right to have a case against the rental company heard by a jury, reversing an earlier decision to grant summary judgment to the defense.
The decision stems from a challenge to the Graves Amendment, passed by Congress in 2005 to alleviate the burden of vicarious liability for rental car companies whose customers negligently operate rental cars. The idea is to encourage these companies to remain operational.
Still, New York City pedestrian accident attorneys recognize that the amendment to the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005 isn’t a catch-all, and there are still instances wherein a rental company can be held vicariously liable in a crash.
The amendment has been used as a tort defense against vicarious liability claims made under state laws, such as New York’s Vehicle and Traffic Law 355, which holds every owner of a vehicle operated in the state shall be liable and responsible for death or injury to persons or property resulting in operation of that vehicle.
There was a legislative effort in 2010 to repeal the law, but the bill never made it out of committee. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t arise again in future sessions.
In the case of Marble v. Faelle, the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that inconsistent documentation on the part of the rental company made it impossible for the defense to assert a lack of consent as a matter of law.
The case unfolded back in December 2007. That’s when the victim stepped off a metro bus and onto the street to cross. While stepping into the far lane of traffic, she was struck by a rental vehicle. The force of impact tossed her onto the hood of the car and then suffer a hard landing on the pavement. She was transported to the hospital, where her injuries were determined to be extensive, but not life-threatening.
She later sued the driver of the vehicle. As it turned out, he wasn’t the one who held a rental agreement with the rental car company. That contract was held by a friend.
The plaintiff subsequently amended her complaint to add to the defendant list the rental company and the man who held the contract.
In seeking summary judgment to dismiss its liability, the rental company presented evidence indicating it had not given the driver permission to operate the vehicle. It further pointed to the Graves Amendment.
However, it’s evidence was contradictory. Primarily, the vehicle listed in the contract was different from the one involved in the crash. The contract does indicate that no unauthorized drivers are to operate the vehicle, but the rental agreement indicated the car was a Prius – not a Charger, which was involved in the wreck.
While it’s true the Graves Amendment would indemnify the rental company for a vehicle driven during the period of a rental or lease (so long as there was no negligence by the company), the rental record didn’t properly identify the vehicle involved in the crash.Therefore, the court found, a summary judgment on the grounds of the Graves Amendment was not appropriate.
Even if it turns out the Graves Amendment is applicable, the plaintiff here could potentially still pursue action against the driver and the person with whom the contract was held, as well as their insurers and his or her own insurance carrier.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Marble v. Faelle, May 29, 2014, Rhode Island Supreme Court
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