Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Handling Personal Injury Claims in the Seattle Area and Throughout Washington Since 1995

My name is Chris Thayer and I am a personal injury attorney practicing in downtown Seattle. I handle personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death claims throughout the greater Seattle area, including Issaquah, Mercer Island and Kirkland.

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If a U-Haul Driver Hits Me in Burien, Can I Sue the Company?

Posted Friday, February 3, 2023 by Chris Thayer

The answer to this question is unclear. State law is uncertain on this point. According to a 1943 case, owners are responsible for car crash damages if there is a valid contract between the owner and driver. U-Haul rentals could meet this standard, especially if the lease agreement contained provisions about what the renter could and couldn’t do while behind the wheel. The 2005 Graves Amendment, which is outlined below, runs contrary to this court decision. This law makes it impossible to sue some vehicle owners for negligence if they rent vehicles to people who cause crashes.

The answer to this question is also critical. A fully-loaded U-Haul moving truck weighs over 14,000 pounds. Under other circumstances, most renters aren’t legally qualified to operate such vehicles. Additionally, most renters decline the additional insurance add-on, which means they are dangerously underinsured. So, the possibility of a serious wreck is high, and the likelihood of obtaining maximum compensation from the renter is low.

A Burien personal injury attorney must assume the worst and expect the court to enforce the Graves Amendment instead of the ancient Poutre v. Saunders decision. Fortunately, the brief Graves Amendment, which was a policy rider to a large transportation bill, has some major flaws. Attorneys who know how to exploit these flaws usually obtain maximum compensation for seriously-injured victims.

*Not Otherwise Negligent*Before we dive into this Graves Amendment requirement, let’s take a moment to define “negligence” in this context.

Owners are negligent if they knowingly allow incompetent operators to borrow, or lease, their motor vehicles. People without valid driver’s licenses are usually incompetent as a matter of law, regardless of how much experience they have behind the wheel.

U-Haul and other owners are immune from liability lawsuits if they, or their employees, were not otherwise negligent in the rental transaction at issue.

Back in 2005, owners and clerks had no efficient and cost-effective way to verify a renter’s driver’s license other than a visual inspection. So, there was no way to tell if the renter’s license was suspended.

Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last twenty years. Anyone with an internet connection can verify a license for just a few dollars. The failure to do so violates industry standards in the vehicle rental industry. Violating standards is evidence of negligence.

On a related note, people with bad driving records that include recent safety suspensions or at-fault collisions might also be incompetent operators under Washington law.

*Vehicle Rental Trade or Business*Additionally, Graves Amendment immunity only applies to companies that are in the trade or business of renting vehicles. A company may rent trucks, but that does not mean it is a truck rental company.

Beer and wine sales are, by far, the biggest moneymaker for most convenience stores. Yet these establishments are convenience stores, not liquor stores. By the same token, most U-Haul outlets rent trucks, sell moving supplies, and rent storage units.

So, a Burien personal injury attorney can argue that even if truck rentals generate most of their income, these outlets are moving service companies, not vehicle rental companies. That designation makes Graves Amendment immunity inapplicable.

*Work With a Diligent King County Attorney*Injury victims are entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Burien, contact Pivotal Law Group, PLLC. We have several offices in Washington State.