A 22-year-old woman was killed in a multi-vehicle accident which involved a passenger car, a pickup truck, and a U-Haul box truck.
The wreck happened on Interstate 75 near London. According to police and witnesses, road construction in the area slowed traffic. A pickup truck driver failed to control his speed and rear-ended a Mazda. The disabled pickup pulled to the shoulder, but the disabled Mazda remained in the traffic lanes. At that point, a U-Haul driver failed to control his speed or change lanes and violently rear-ended the disabled Mazda.
Emergency responders rushed the Mazda driver to a nearby hospital, where she was subsequently declared dead.
Wrongful Death Claims in Kentucky
Car crashes instantly kill, or almost instantly kill, tens of thousands of Americans every year. Other victims linger for weeks or months before they succumb to their injuries. Procedurally, wrongful death claims are different from injury claims.
Before we go further, a few words about wrongful death claims and money damages. No amount of money could fill the void that a wrongful death creates. It’s insulting to think otherwise. But the best lawyer in the world cannot turn back the clock and change what happened.
So, the only thing a Lexington personal injury attorney can do is help survivors obtain closure and give them the resources they need to move on. Wrongful death actions accomplish these things.
In Kentucky, wrongful death claims are actually two claims in one. The estate is entitled to compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills related to the decedent’s final injury or illness.
Certain survivors, usually immediate family members, are entitled to compensation for lost future emotional and financial support. These survivors might also be entitled to compensation for their own suffering and grief, under negligent infliction of emotional distress or another legal theory.
Third Party Liability and the Graves Amendment
The traditional negligent entrustment doctrine states that vehicle owners are vicariously liable for damages if they allow incompetent drivers to use their vehicles and these drivers cause crashes. A fully-loaded, 26-foot, U-Haul box truck weighs over 30,000 pounds. Typically, drivers need commercial licenses to operate such heavy machines. Therefore, incompetence is rather easy to prove.
But not so fast. An obscure provision of federal law, the Graves Amendment, limits owner liability in these situations. Unless victim/plaintiffs bypass 49 U.S. Code § 30106, only the U-Haul driver is legally responsible for the crash. That’s very unfortunate, because most U-Haul drivers have little or no insurance.
The Graves Amendment was a policy rider to a large omnibus transportation bill. Like other such add-ons, 49 U.S. Code § 30106 is poorly drafted and full of holes.
Trade or Business
Graves Amendment immunity only applies if the vehicle’s owner was in the “trade or business” of renting motor vehicles. The Graves Amendment does not define this key phrase. So, attorneys must look elsewhere to determine its legal meaning.
The Uniform Commercial Code, which is the Bible in most contract claims, defines “merchant,” a similar concept, as:
- Dealer in Kind: Alcohol sales make up a significant portion of the sales at most convenience stores. Yet these places are convenience stores and not liquor stores. The same thing is true of many U-Haul owners. These entities are moving supply and storage companies which make most of their money from truck rentals. But that fact doesn’t make them vehicle rental dealers. The company is still a moving supply company.
- Special Knowledge: Alternatively, a “merchant” is someone with specialized knowledge of a product. U-Haul clerks and managers have no special knowledge about the vehicles they rent. They can tell you how to turn on the air conditioner, but they cannot tell you its BTU capacity.
Arguably, therefore, the “trade or business” requirement does not apply to most U-Haul and other moving truck rental establishments.
Not Otherwise Negligent
Furthermore, immunity only applies if the owner or agent was not otherwise negligent during the transaction. It’s clearly negligent to rent a vehicle to a person without a valid drivers’ license.
In the early 2000s, when the Graves Amendment went into effect, visual inspections were the only way to verify drivers’ licenses. Now, it’s easy to perform these checks over the internet. In fact, such inspections are now arguably the industry standard.
Violating an industry standard is clear evidence of negligence. This principle applies in medical malpractice claims, and it applies here as well.
Vehicle rental crashes involve very complex issues. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. You have a limited amount of time to act. #goodelawyers