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What on Earth is the Graves Amendment?

Thumbnail image for civil law.jpegPoliticians love attaching policy riders as "amendments" to must-pass spending bill and other such legislation. Typically, these addendums have very little effect on the public at large. But 49 U.S.C. 3106 is a major exception to this rule.

In Texas, noncommercial owners who negligently allow incompetent drivers to borrow their vehicles are liable for damages if those incompetent drivers cause car crashes. To obtain compensation, a Weatherford personal injury lawyer must prove that the owner knew the driver was incompetent (e.g. no valid drivers' license or a poor driving record) and the incompetent driver caused the crash.

But because of the Graves Amendment, commercial negligent entrustment cases, like Enterprise Rent-a-Car crashes, work differently.

Graves Amendment Background

In the early 2000s, a Connecticut jury hit Enterprise with a multimillion dollar judgement following a fatal crash. In response, Enterprise and several other large rental car companies threatened to take their marbles and go home. They said they would cease operations in states with strong commercial negligent entrustment laws.

So, Missouri Democrat Sam Graves penned the Graves Amendment and attached it to a large, must-pass transportation bill. The law purported to shield vehicle rental agencies from liability judgements.

Like many policy riders, the Graves Amendment is short and not very well-drafted. Additionally, as is typical, Congress held no hearings or otherwise outlined the purpose of the Graves Amendment. All these question marks give a Weatherford personal injury attorney an opportunity to stand up for you.

Getting Around the Graves Amendment

49 U.S.C. 3106 not only contains the liability shield. It also contains the means to undo this grant of immunity in court.

  • Trade or Business: The Graves Amendment states that vehicle owners who are in the trade or business of leasing vehicles cannot be held liable for third-party damages. But this provision does not define this phrase. Typically, people in a trade or business have a special skill regarding the products or services they sell. But clerks at most rental car agencies have no such skills. They are only adept at processing paperwork.

  • Not Otherwise Negligent: Additionally, the Graves Amendment does not apply if the agent was negligent in some way. In the early 2000s, there was no way to verify drivers' licenses remotely. So, there was no way to know whether or not the driver was incompetent. That technology is available today. So, electronic drivers' license verification has become the industry standard.

Third party liability theories like negligent entrustment are very important in rental car crash cases. Typically, the driver has very little insurance. So, it's difficult to obtain fair compensation.

The Graves Amendment makes commercial negligent entrustment cases even more difficult to win. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Weatherford, contact Herreth Law. Home and hospital visits are available.

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