Suing a rental car company in Florida when someone driving one of their vehicles injures or kills another person in a traffic accident is nearly impossible due to a federal law known as the Graves Amendment.
The Graves Amendment 49 U.S.C. Section 30106 provides that no rental car company is legally responsible for being the owner of a vehicle that is involved in a car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle or pedestrian accident unless there is proof that the rental car company was negligent or committed a crime.
RENTAL CAR DRIVEN BY A DRIVER WITH A SUSPENDED LICENSE
For example, the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami just confirmed the dismissal of a the case of Bernie Rivers, who was killed in a car wreck by a Corvette owned by Hertz and driven by William Walker. When Mr. Walker rented the Corvette from Hertz, he presented them with a suspended driver’s license. Mr. Rivers’ Estate claimed that Hertz knew or should have known that Mr. Walker’s driver’s license was suspended and subsequently not rented him the vehicle.
According to the traffic homicide report witnesses testified that Mr. Walker was speeding and swerving through traffic before colliding with Mr. Rivers’s car and killing him. Mr. Walker’s license had been suspended in another state for speeding.
DO RENTAL CAR COMPANIES HAVE TO VERIFY IF A DRIVER’S LICENCE IS VALID?
The threshold question facing the appellate court in this case was whether or not Hertz, or any rental car company for that matter, has a duty to perform a background check into the status of a customer’s driver’s license.
Legal duty is a question of law that focuses on whether a defendant’s conduct foreseeable creates a broader “zone of risk” that poses a general threat of harm to others–or in other words does checking or not checking the driver’s license mean that a person is more or less likely to cause a car accident?
FLORIDA LAW FOR SUING RENTAL CAR COMPANIES UNDER THE GRAVES AMENDMENT
Under Florida law, Section 322.38(1) rental car companies can only rent cars to people with valid driver’s licenses. However, section 322.38 (2) states that rental car companies are only obligated to compare the signatures on the driver’s license to the signature of the person signing the rental car agreement. In Mr. Rivers’ case there was no allegation that Hertz failed to compare the signatures.
Sadly (and I wish I could say surprisingly) the opinion from the 3rd District Court of Appeal was to side in favor of the corporate giant Hertz at the expense of the individual by dismissing the case. In the court’s opinion, Hertz only owed a duty of care if it knew or should have known that for “some reason entrusting the vehicle to Walker was foolish or negligent.”
The court found that no duty existed to know (or check) that Mr. Walker’s license was suspended because Hertz had no reason to believe at the time it was presented that the license it was invalid.
In addition, the court’s opinion was that even if Hertz was negligent in not verifying the license, the suspended licence did not make Mr. Walker an “unfit driver or incompetent to drive” as it believes that “the accident would have occurred whether or not (Mr.) Walker had a valid license in his possession at the time of the rental.”
As a lawyer in Florida who has sued rental car companies for more than 20 years, I strongly believe that given today’s technology and ease of verifying such basic data (such as whether or not a person’s driver’s license is valid) compared to the severity of harm that can be caused by placing a dangerous driver on our roads, rental car companies absolutely have an obligation to verify a customer’s license before they put them behind the wheel of any vehicle.
This is a tremendous injustice to the family of Mr. Rivers and to all of us who share the roads with rental cars. Hertz, Avis, Alamo and National make millions of dollars for renting their vehicles to tourists who visit the State of Florida every year. They determine their driving eligibility by comparing signatures. This is simply too risky of a process and does little to insure the safety of our roads or the responsibilities of rental car companies.
To provide this kind of legal protection deprives justice to those who are injured or killed by their cars which are by definition “dangerous instrumentalities.” To learn more about Florida’s rental car laws please read my recent blog for the Huffington Post: Why Florida’s Governor Wants Tourists to Rent Cars.
If you have been injured in any type of car accident, please email me, Spencer Aronfeld with your case details. Our car accident attorneys are standing by 24/7 to assist with your situation. Need help? Call toll free: 866-597-4529