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On July 31st, a federal judge in the Western District of New York reinterpreted a Congressional law to make it easier for truck accident victims to recover from trucking companies for injuries caused by accidents with the companies' trucks. The law in question was the Graves Amendment to the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Act. This Amendment allows companies that rent vehicles to avoid liability for any accidents caused by the person driving a rented vehicle. The New York federal judge ruled that this Amendment did not protect trucking companies from liability for the mistakes of their truckers. 

The Graves Amendment

Congress passed the Graves Amendment in response to lobbying efforts undertaken by the rental car industry. The rental car industry wanted legal protection from liability that could otherwise result from renting the car to a bad driver who causes an accident. However, this amendment caught the attention of the trucking industry, and some trucking companies began structuring themselves in such a way that they fell under the amendment's protection.

The trucking companies would create a parent company that owned two other smaller companies. One of the smaller companies could employ the drivers and the other smaller company would own the trucks and hold onto the majority of the assets. Then, the company that employed the drivers could rent the trucks from the company that owned them. This made it difficult for accident victims to recover for their injuries because the company that employed the drivers had very little money to pay, and the company that owned the trucks and held the cash was protected by the Graves Amendment. However, the recently decided case changes that rule.

The New Case

The July 31st case involved an accident from 2009 in which a distracted truck driver struck a parked car, killing a 33-year-old woman. The woman's husband then brought a case against the driver and the trucking company. The company, which was structured in the way described above, raised the defense of the Graves Amendment, arguing that they were simply the owners who had rented the truck to the driver's company.

The judge saw it differently. He drew a distinction between car rental companies that are only related to their drivers by the rental contract, and the trucking companies which were both owned by the same people. The judge decided that the law existed to shield car rental companies from the mistakes of the private individuals that they rent to and over whom they have no control, rather than to protect trucking companies who strategically structure their businesses to hide from liability.

If you or someone you love has been involved in a commercial trucking accident, reach out to an NYC truck accident lawyer. Our firm can aggressively defend your rights and help you receive the full and fair compensation that you deserve.

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