The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Graves Law Preemption of Vicarious Liability Affirmed by U.S. Court of Appeals

July 19, 2010

WASHINGTON - On July 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit invoked the federal Graves Law (49 USC 30106) in ruling that a vehicle lessor could not be held vicariously liable on the sole basis of vehicle ownership, according to the Truck Renting and Leasing Association (TRALA).

TRALA is a voluntary, non-profit national trade association founded in 1978 to serve as a unified and focused voice for the truck renting and leasing industry.  

The decision in Carton v. GMAC (General Motors Acceptance Corporation) upholds an earlier ruling of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa which ruled against the appellants' vicarious liability claims as well as their negligent entrustment claims. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the authority of the Graves Law in preempting vicarious liability and also found that there was no negligent entrustment on the part of GMAC.

The U.S. District Court, citing earlier cases, ruled that the appellants' negligent entrustment claims were also barred by the Graves Law provision that limits the protections under the law to cases in which "there is no negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the owner (or an affiliate of the owner)." The district court interpreted this savings clause to only apply to claims of negligent maintenance. The appellate court subsequently disagreed with the district court's narrow interpretation of the savings clause of the Graves Law. However, the appellate court nevertheless found that the appellants' claims of negligent entrustment did not have merit.


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