If a U-Haul Truck Hits Me, Can I Sue the Company?
Many people ask this question. Over thirty-five million Americans move every year, and many of them rent moving trucks. Normally, people must have commercial drivers’ licenses to operate these heavy trucks. So, when they cause crashes, the injuries are often catastrophic.
Normally, the answer to this question is “yes.” The negligent entrustment doctrine allows victims to sue vehicle owners who allow incompetent drivers to operate their vehicles. But because of an obscure federal law called the Graves Amendment, the answer to this question is “maybe.”
Lawmakers designed 49 U.S. Code § 30106 to immunize companies against lawsuits in situations like this. But the Graves Amendment has two key holes that an experienced Port St. Lucie personal injury attorney can exploit.
Not Otherwise Negligent
Graves Amendment immunity only applies to owners or agents whose only negligence was renting a vehicle to an incompetent driver. Evidence of incompetency includes things like a safety-suspended drivers’ license or a poor driving record that includes recent at-fault accidents.
So, in matters of incompetency, the owner’s or agent’s knowledge of the renter’s driving record is critical. When lawmakers approved the Graves Amendment in the early 2000s, license verification technology was in its infancy. A visual inspection was the only way to verify a drivers’ license.
Today, things are much different. Such tools are readily available. In fact, it has become the industry standard to check drivers’ licenses over the internet before finalizing vehicle lease agreements.
Why is that important? Violating an industry standard creates a presumption of negligence. So, U-Haul owners or agents who fail to take this step are presumptively negligent as well. If the operator was incompetent, negligent entrustment liability usually attaches. Willful blindness is not a defense to lack of knowledge.
Trade or Business
Furthermore, Graves Amendment immunity is limited to those owners or agents in the “trade or business” of renting large trucks. The poorly-drafted Graves Amendment does not define this key phrase. So, attorneys must look elsewhere to determine meaning.
Judges often use the Uniform Commercial Code to resolve commercial and other contract disputes. The UCC defines a “merchant,” which is basically the same thing, as a dealer in goods of a particular kind who has special knowledge about a certain product.
Most U-Haul dealers do not meet either part of this definition. These dealers are usually moving companies who rent a few trucks on the side. Convenience stores are not liquor stores even if alcohol sales make up a significant chunk of their revenue. And, other than how to drive them, most U-Haul employees know almost nothing about the trucks they rent. For example, they can tell people how to operate the air conditioner, but they do not know its BTU capacity.
Damages in a truck crash claim usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages might be available as well, in some extreme cases.
Connect with an Aggressive Lawyer
Despite the Graves Amendment, owners are usually responsible for U-Haul crashes. For a free consultation with an experienced Port St. Lucie personal injury lawyer, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.