Supreme Court of Florida Gives Free Ride to Car Rental Agencies

By its decision in Vargas v. Enterprise Leasing Company (Case no.: SC08-2269; opinion issued on April 21, 2011), the Supreme Court of Florida has declared that car rental agencies, unlike regular citizens and other businesses, are not vicariously liable for accidents involving the vehicles they own. Score one for big business!

Rafael Vargas was rear-ended and injured in his car by a rental vehicle owned by Enterprise Leasing Company. Vargas sued Enterprise for personal injuries on the theory of vicarious liability. The trial court dismissed the case and the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the judge’s decision, inviting the Supreme Court to answer a question certified to be of great public importance:

DOES THE GRAVES AMENDMENT, 49 U.S.C. ยง 30106, PREEMPT SECTION 324.021(9)(b)2, FLORIDA STATUTES (2007)?

The Supreme Court accepted the invitation and answered the certified question in the affirmative.

At the urging of the Bush Administration, in 2005 the Republican-controlled Congress enacted the Graves Amendment. Proponents of the federal law sought to immunize rental agencies from laws in the various states which held them financially responsible for injury and death caused by their vehicles. One of those laws is/was Florida Statute Section 324.021(9)(b)2. Opponents argued that the Graves Amendment did not preempt the Florida statute. Hence, the stage was set for Vargas v. Enterprise Leasing Company.

I have blogged repeatedly on this subject. It makes no logical sense to me that car rental agencies, which make billions of dollars yearly entrusting their vehicles to complete strangers, are able to avoid accountability, while individuals and other companies in Florida have full financial responsibility for the damage caused by the vehicles they own.

BLOGS:

The expectation is that the issue decided in Vargas will end up in the United States Supreme Court, whether through Vargas or some other case from another state. Ironically, it is Republicans, the darlings of states rights, who are championing a law that tramples the rights of individual states to create particular laws for its own residents.

So much for principle.
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Here is a real-life example of the damage this legislation has created. I received this email from a woman on May 14, 2011. (Our firm is investigating the matter for her and her husband.)

My husband was severely injured by a tourist whom rented a vehicle through Alamo. My husband has suffered Traumatic Brain Injury and I’m told there’s nothing we can do about it. Florida Law states that a tourist from another country is not held liable to purchase or show proof of insurance, just a license from his country. And that Alamo rental is also protected from lawsuits by the same law. My husband has a long way to recovery with speech and physical therapy. We’ve lost our income, his job, insurance, our entire lives has been interrupted and we’re suffering as a result of this severe accident and injury. And the tourist got to go home and pick up where he left off. He got a free card from our State to get away with all the damage he’s caused. The tourist failed to stop at a red light, he didn’t understand our traffic system.

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Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.

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