Moving Truck Liability In Louisiana

Summer is moving season for both military and civilian families, because new orders come in during these months and school is out of session, for most kids. Nationwide, about 65 percent of relocations occur between May and August.

The uptick in activity means that more rented vehicles, especially larger moving trucks from Ryder, U-Haul, and other companies, will be on the roads. These large vehicles are quite unwieldy, particularly when they are fully loaded, and inexperienced drivers often find it difficult to control them. Add the fact that many drivers are operating in unfamiliar new territory, and there are all the ingredients for a serious truck wreck. Is the rental company or other vehicle owner responsible for damages in these negligence cases?

The Graves Amendment

In the early 2000s, a number of states started passing very strict vicarious liability laws that made vehicle owners responsible for damages if their lessees caused car crashes. To protect this industry, Congress added 49 U.S.C. 30106 to the 2005 omnibus spending bill. Like many such add-ons, there is almost no legislative history in support of the so-called Graves Amendment, which bears the name of its sponsor.

Instead, there is only a blanket grant of immunity, which says that “An owner of a motor vehicle that rents or leases the vehicle to a person (or an affiliate of the owner) shall not be liable. . .for harm to persons or property that results or arises out of the use, operation, or possession of the vehicle during the period of the rental or lease.” A subsequent provision leaves open the possibility that some conflicting state laws may still be valid.

Bypassing the Graves Amendment

Under traditional negligent entrustment tort theory, vehicle owners are responsible if they allow unqualified drivers to operate their vehicles, and these operators subsequently cause car crashes. This analysis still applies to rented vehicles if:

  • Trade or Business: Under Section (a)(1), the Graves Amendment only applies to firms that are in the “trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles.” This label arguably does not apply to U-Haul and other firms, because they are moving companies that happen to rent trucks on the side.
  • Not Otherwise Negligent: According to Section (a)(2), the owner or affiliate must be free from “negligence or criminal wrongdoing.” Some courts have held that owners and affiliates have a duty to verify the drivers’ licenses of potential renters, and a poor driving record or an invalid license is evidence of negligence.
  • State Financial Responsibility Law: Under relevant portions of Louisiana law, an owner or affiliate is liable for damages if the operator was uninsured. The same result arguably applies to underinsured motorists, although this theory has not been tested in court.

Damages in a car crash case typically include compensation for both economic damages, like lost wages, and noneconomic damages, including loss of consortium (companionship). Punitive damages are also available, in some cases.

Rental vehicle owners are liable for damages that lessees cause, in some cases. For a free consultation with an experienced Lake Charles personal injury attorney, contact Hoffhoss Devall. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.