Are leasing companies exempt from negligent truck drivers’ actions?

Written by Ankin Law Office

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that truck crashes have increased in the past few years. According to Illinois statistics, there were over 5,500 collisions involving large trucks in 2012. Liability in a collision involving a tractor trailer is seldom as straightforward as those involving two or more passenger vehicles. Truck accident lawyers in Chicago often must explain to victims that a number of parties may be at fault.

Multiple companies involved

A carrier company is required to have permits to operate its trucks, but frequently the carrier is not the owner of the truck. Sometimes a driver may independently lease a truck from a truck company and then contract with the carrier to provide transportation services. In other cases, the carrier company may own the truck but lease it to a driver with the option to purchase. The many leasing options available in the trucking industry can make it difficult to determine who is liable when a trucker causes injury to another person.

According to a news story reported in Overdrive Magazine, a woman in a stationary vehicle was struck and killed by a tractor trailer. Her spouse sued the driver for negligence. He also sued the driver’s employer and the company that leased the truck to the employer. In this case, the leasing company and the driver’s employer were subsidiaries of the same holding company, which was also named in the negligence suit.

The Graves Amendment

The leasing company argued in appellate court that the Graves Amendment should protect it from any liability. The Graves Amendment is a federal statute which grants immunity to vehicle rental and leasing companies whose vehicles are involved in accidents by those that lease them. It overrides state laws holding truck owners vicariously liable for their drivers’ behaviors.

However, federal law states that the truck owner is liable for any tractor trailer displaying its information. The amendment only affects companies who lease vehicles using a simple lease agreement, such as when an individual leases a truck. Because the employer, the leasing company and the holding company had a much more substantial connection to the truck involved in the fatal collision, the appellate court ruled that none of the companies was exempt from the negligence suit. The outcome of the suit, which was filed in a lower court, has yet to be determined.

Establishing negligence

Truck accident lawyers in Chicago typically understand that commercial vehicles are equipped with onboard computers and other means of discovering the causes of a crash. If evidence indicates that there were maintenance, repair or inspection issues, the owner of the truck and the lessee could be liable for negligence, even though the operator may also be held responsible for driver error.

Victims and family members devastated by a collision involving a commercial truck may be able to receive compensation from more than one source. Truck accident lawyers in Chicago may provide legal advice that leads to holding all responsible parties liable for injuries, fatalities and the pain and suffering that accompany these accidents.

Categories: Auto Accidents

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