Ensuring that the Graves Law continues to protect non-negligent renting and leasing companies from liability without fault is the goal of an amicus brief filed yesterday by the Truck Renting and Leasing Association.
The amicus brief filed by TRALA states that by passing the Graves Law, "Congress intended to bar all vicarious liability actions against vehicle leasing and renting operations without exception."  The brief was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York which is considering the Stratton v Wallace case. In this case, the motor carrier involved in the accident and the non-negligent lessor are both mutually owned by the same company.
In Stratton v Wallace, the NY court rejected the Graves Law as a defense for Great River Leasing Company. Its reasoning centered on the Graves Law's provision that "An owner of a motor vehicle that rents or leases the vehicle to a person (or an affiliate of the owner) shall not be reason of being the owner (or an affiliate of the owner)." The court's interpretation of the law is that it does not apply to non-negligent owners who lease to negligent affiliates. TRALA's brief argues that the Graves Law's preemption of vicarious liability applies to both owners and their affiliates that are in the business of renting and leasing vehicles.
TRALA's brief outlines the legislative history and debate in the U.S. Congress over the Graves Law. TRALA points out that both proponents and opponents of the amendment to the 2005 highway bill argue that the law would completely eliminate liability without fault to owners and affiliates of the owners.  The brief highlights the legislative history and the placement of the phrase "or an affiliate of the owner" throughout the Graves Law.  With these facts, TRALA strongly argues in support of the "clear and unambiguous purpose" of the Graves Law in barring strict liability based on vehicle ownership alone.
To see a copy of the TRALA amicus brief, please click here.  If you have any questions about the Graves Law, vicarious liability or TRALA's arguments in its Stratton v Wallace amicus brief, please contact Tom James at or by calling (703) 299-9120.