Florida Supreme Court Upholds Graves Law

According to a Truck Renting and Leasing Association (TRALA) legislative bulletin, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled to uphold the constitutionality and preemptive authority of the federal Graves Law (49 USC 30106) in the case of Vargas v. Enterprise Leasing Co.  In its decision, the Supreme Court rejected the plaintiff's argument that Florida statutes, which set caps on vicarious liability, are "financial responsibility laws" that are preserved by the Graves Law.  Instead, the court ruled that those statutes are vicarious liability laws and thus preempted by the Graves Law.  This decision supports the arguments contained in the amicus brief submitted to the Court by TRALA's Industry Council for Vehicle Renting and Leasing.  

This ruling also supports the earlier decision made by the Fourth District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida in Vargas v. Enterprise, which ruled that the Graves Law preempts section 324.021(9)(b)2 of the Florida statutes.  In its decision, the Supreme Court said that, "Congress in 2005, through the Graves Amendment, clearly sought to eliminate vicarious liability for a specific category of owner/lessors that under Florida's reforms remained, to an extent, exposed - those 'engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles.'"  

In addition to the Florida Supreme Court, several other courts of law in Florida have ruled that section 324.021(9)(b)2 is a vicarious liability law that is preempted by the Graves Law, including the Florida Circuit Courts (including the 11th and 18th  Circuits), the Florida Court of Appeals, the U.S. District Court (Southern and Middle District) and the U.S. Court of Appeals.  Courts in New York, Minnesota, Connecticut and Maine have also upheld the authority of the Graves Law. 

TRALA and its Industry Council have now filed amicus briefs supporting the constitutionality and preemptive authority of the Graves Law in eight cases, all of which have returned favorable decisions.

The Graves Law was passed in August 2005 as part of the SAFETEA-LU highway bill, the result of a multi-year vicarious liability reform effort led by TRALA.  It created a uniform national standard against liability without fault by preempting state vicarious liability laws that imposed liability on non-negligent leasing and renting companies solely on the basis of ownership.  Since its passage, TRALA members have saved hundreds of millions of dollars each year in potential frivolous lawsuits and legal costs. 

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