The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

New York Court Holds Federal Vicarious Liability Repeal Unconstitutional

September 26, 2006

NEW YORK – The constitutionality of federal legislation that eliminates vicarious liability for owners of rented and leased vehicles has been called into question by a New York court. On Sept. 11, the Supreme Court in Queens County, N.Y., denied a motion made by Nissan Infiniti, LT in Graham v. Dunkley and Nilt, Inc. to dismiss a vicarious liability claim. The motion to dismiss was based on the federal statute (49 USC 30106) that prohibits states from imposing vicarious liability. Judge Thomas Polizzi, in denying the motion, held that the federal statute “is an unconstitutional exercise of congressional authority under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8.” To date, courts in New York, Maine, and Connecticut, have all upheld the preemptive authority of the federal vicarious liability repeal statute over state law. The action this week in Graham v. Dunkley and Nilt, Inc. is the first case in which a court has ruled against the constitutionality of the federal statute. The Truck Rental and Leasing Association (TRALA) and its Industry Council for Vehicle Renting and Leasing are reviewing the case and will provide industry support for arguments to uphold the federal statute.
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