On August, 19th a federal appeals court upheld the statute shielding car rental companies from vicarious liability in auto accidents. See Garcia v. Vanguard Care Rental USA, Inc., 11th Circuit Ct. of App., No. 07-12235.
Our prior post on immunity for car rental companies can be found here.
In this case a Vanguard rental car was leased to a Gregory Davis who was at fault in a fatal three way collision in Florida. The estates would have sued the car rental company on the theory of vicarious liability, i.e., Vanguard would be responsible for the negligence of the driver. Florida, like New York, has a vicarious liability law which imposes liability on the car owner for the negligence of the operator. The so-called federal Graves Amendment shielded car rental and leasing agencies from such liability. Therefore, the Graves Amendment voided the vicarious liability law of Florida (and New York).
Vanguard filed a declaratory judgment in the federal court seeking a declaration that the Graves Amendment preempted a suit against the car rental company. Vanguard did this in anticipation of the estates suing Vanguard for vicarious liability in the state court. The federal court upheld the car rental company’s position, and the Court of Appeals upheld the decision. The federal Graves Amendment preempts Florida’s statute imposing vicarious liability. The Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Congress exercised its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce and to preempt states’ law imposing vicarious liability. In essence the Congress is regulating the car rental/leasing industry in exempting it from state imposed laws (such as vicarious liability) which burden it and impair interstate commerce.
Although the car rental industry won this round, the fight is not over. Constitutional challenges will be brought in other courts, and we predict that the U.S. Supreme Court will have to rule. The trial lawyers groups, both national and statewide, are going to continue to fight for the rights of regular people against the U.S. Congress’ incredible gift to the car rental industry.
We congratulate and thank great Florida attorney, Ira Leesfield, for fighting Garcia on behalf of regular, working people.
Mark E. Seitelman, 9/3/08, www.seitelman.com.