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Federal Judge Declares Rental Car Immunity Unconstitutional

In a landmark ruling for our client, Jean Francois Huchon and Florida plaintiffs, United States District Judge K. Michael Moore has held that the federal rental car immunity statute, 49 U.S.C. § 30106, commonly known as the Graves Amendment, which purports to regulate vicarious tort liability of car rental companies, is an unconstitutional overreaching of Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause. In his well-analyzed opinion, Judge Moore held that the Graves Amendment directly indicates an intention to pre-empt state law. The Court concluded that Congress exceeded the authority granted by the Commerce Clause because the statute: regulates tort liability but:

  • does not directly regulate either channels of interstate commerce or the use of those channels;
  • does not regulate the use of instrumentalities of interstate commerce; and
  • does not substantially affect interstate commerce.

The Court found that there is no evidence that vicarious tort liability for car rental or leasing companies would undercut some larger federal regulatory scheme for the car rental industry. Nor is vicarious tort liability for car rental or leasing companies being used by states to control interstate commerce in rental cars. Nor has any argument been raised that the car rental or leasing industry requires protection, or is in the least bit of danger.

Our client, thirty seven year old Jean Huchon, was severely injured in February 2006 when the motorcycle he was riding was struck by the driver of an Alamo rental car in Marathon, Florida. Jean Huchon suffered closed head injury and cervical spine fractures due to the rental car driver’s negligence. The personal injury action filed by Leesfield Scolaro in the Circuit Court for Monroe County, Florida was removed to the United States District Court on diversity jurisdiction grounds. Alamo’s parent, Vanguard Car Rental USA, Inc. filed an action for declaratory judgment claiming immunity from liability based on the Graves Amendment. The Court consolidated the underlying tort and declaratory judgment actions. The tort action is currently pending before Judge Moore and awaiting a trial date.

Based upon the earlier favorable ruling in New York on the unconstitutionality of the Graves Amendment, Leesfield recognized that the constitutional challenge would be pivotal in Jean Huchon’s case in Florida and enlisted John Vail and Andre Mura of the Center for Constitutional Litigation, P.C. to assist us. Special thanks go out to John Vail and Andre Mura and their staff, who worked so hard on the brief and legal issues in conjunction with our firm.

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