If a Rented Vehicle Hits Me, Can I Sue the Company?
Yes, even though Ohio does not have a vicarious liability statute that addresses this issue. The negligent entrustment rule still applies, if the victim gets around the Graves Amendment. Let’s break these things down a little.
Owners are liable for car crash damages if they allow incompetent people to operate their motor vehicles. Usually, people without valid drivers’ licenses are incompetent as a matter of law, regardless of their driving experience.
49 U.S. Code § 30106 was an obscure add-on amendment to a huge transportation bill. Rep. Sam Graves (D-MO) introduced this amendment to shield companies like U-Haul and Enterprise from third-party liability judgments. The brief Graves Amendment has almost no legislative history, which means the provision has some very large holes. More on that below.
Usually, victims must sue the vehicle owner in order to obtain fair compensation Most people who rent vehicles have very little insurance. A Columbus personal injury lawyer fights hard to ensure that these victims have their day in court.
Trade or Business Requirement
Negligent entrustment immunity applies to companies that are in the trade or business of renting motor vehicles. As mentioned, the Graves Amendment doesn’t have much substance. It doesn’t define key terms. So, a Columbus personal injury attorney must look elsewhere for guidance.
The Uniform Commercial Code, which is like the commercial law guide, defines merchant, a similar term, as:
- Dealer in Kind: This phrase means the activity the business focuses on. Old Navy sells candy at the counter, but Old Navy is not a candy store. Likewise, many vehicle rental establishments are moving supply companies that rent a few trucks on the side.
- Special Expertise: Merchants claim to have special knowledge about the products or services they sell. An Enterprise clerk might be able to tell a renter how to work the air conditioner. But an Enterprise worker has no special knowledge about the unit.
To successfully sue U-Haul or another such company, a victim/plaintiff must establish this exception and the one below by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not.
Not Otherwise Negligent Rule
Usually, drivers’ license verification is the key issue in this area. In the early 2000s, when lawmakers approved the Graves Amendment, this question was a non-issue. Back in the early days of the internet, efficient electronic license verification was impossible, especially if the renter had an out-of-state license. So, the clerk had to do a visual inspection (i.e. license wasn’t expired and it “looked” real).
Now, such technology is readily accessible. In fact, since Avis, Hertz, and other national companies require it, electronic drivers’ license verification has arguably become the industry standard. Violation of the industry standard is evidence of negligence.
We mentioned the effect of an invalid license along with other evidence of driver incompetence above. If the company knowingly or recklessly gave the keys to an incompetent driver who happened to have a valid credit card, jurors often award significant punitive damages, on top of compensatory damages for economic (medical bills) and noneconomic (pain and suffering) losses.
Work With a Dedicated Franklin County Lawyer
Injury victims are entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Columbus, contact the Oliver Law Office. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.