There’s an old belief in movies and TV that the responsibility of the crew’s acts is that of the ship’s captain. In negligence law, there is a similar rule that applies, which is that the responsibility of the plaintiff’s damages isn’t necessarily that of the tortfeasor (negligent driver).
Of all drivers in the USA about 12 percent of them are uninsured. However, there are many under-insured drivers also. In major wrecks involving newer vehicles, the amounts of bodily injury and property damage coverage might not be enough to give fair compensation. Therefore, many victims seek elsewhere than the tortfeasor’s insurance company.
Liability of Employers
The Latin term for “let the master answer” (respondeat superior) is the same as the idea that the captain is responsible for the conduct of the crew, because an employee is responsible for an employee’s negligent acts under the third party liability theory. In most states, there are two elements.
First, the tortfeasor has to be an employee. The common-law definition for “employ” is used by most courts, which means “suffer or permit to work.” Volunteers, under this interpretation, as well as interns and independent contractors can usually qualify as employees because the amount of control a boss has over workers is one of the primary factors in this test. And, in these situations, things like the way jobs are performed, working hours and conditions, and delivery truck routes are usually dictated by the employer.
In the grey area of a spouse or friend of an employee driving the vehicle for servicing or filling in, some courts consider these people as employees for negligence purposes.
The other aspect is course and scope of employment. Once again, this phrase is defined by courts in a broad and plaintiff-friendly way. Normally, an employee’s activity is within the scope and course of employment if that activity benefits the employer in some way. This could even be an activity like driving a company car with a logo of the company on it. If the employee stole a car or did something else illegal, then the employer has a valid defense.
Specifically in the moving summertime months, there are a lot of large rented trucks out on the road. Under usual circumstances, a commercial driver’s license is required to operate many of these big vehicles. So, many rental truck drivers get distracted by their GPS systems while they are unfamiliar with the area and also inexperienced.
Even though a rental truck driver appears to be an employee under the liberal Respondeat superior standard, rental companies aren’t responsible for damages every time because of the Graves Amendment, which is a little-known omnibus federal spending bill add-on. Like many other add-ons, there isn’t much legislative history that is in support of 49 U.S.C § 30106, besides a couple of minutes of floor debate. Sam Graves (D-MO), a representative, introduced a bill that protects truck vehicle companies because a large company in the Northeast had to cease operations in multiple states a few months earlier after paying a multimillion dollar settlement.
The law appears to be, in most cases, an immunity blanket. But there are some very big loopholes, in closer inspection, in Section (a).
- Business or Trade of Renting Vehicles: This phrase is not defined by the law, but it does usually mean that most of a company’s revenue is gained from this source. A lot of companies are now like moving companies in addition to vehicle renting companies, like U-Haul, and provide more services like renting storage spaces and selling moving supplies.
- Not Negligent Otherwise: Store clerks were not able to verify driver’s licenses when the Graves Amendment was passed. But checks are now a lot easier, and courts have declared that letting someone rent a vehicle with suspended license or poor driving record is both conclusive proof and evidence of negligence.
Some or all of the plaintiff’s economic and non-economic damages may be the liability of the car rental company if the Graves Amendment doesn’t apply.
Dram Shop Responsibilities
A commercial alcohol provider, such as taverns, bars, and restaurants, may be liable for damages in some states if an impaired person causes an accident or injures someone. To establish liability, by the quality of evidence the plaintiff has to prove:
- Selling Illegally: In some states, it is a crime if a person “willfully, knowingly, and unlawfully furnishes, sells, or serves an alcoholic beverage to a person who is in a state of noticeable intoxication” or “to a person who is not of lawful drinking age.” One type of illegal sale can be objective, because the person purchasing the alcohol is either 21 or younger, and a reasonable mistake like a fake ID isn’t a defense. The second type of illegal sale has to be proved by evidence that is circumstantial, like bloodshot eyes, unsteady balance, or slurred speech.
- Motorized Vehicles: The restaurant or bar must know if someone is about to drive a motor vehicle while intoxicated or underage. Sufficient knowledge can normally be proven if the tortfeasor left alone.
Property loss and medical bills are some of the economic damages in these cases, while intangible items like loss of enjoyment in life and emotional distress are some of the noneconomic damages.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
For fast help with a negligence claim or car accident, contact a reliable personal injury attorney. The amount of time you have to act is limited. Understanding the law can be difficult, especially when involved in a third party liability. You may need the legal services of the auto attorneys at the Sargent Law Firm. Contact us today to get started.