For the most part, each state can create its own laws. While some issues are reserved for the federal government, states are free to enact legislation affecting most areas of law. For example, Maryland lawmakers create most of the laws that apply in Maryland car accidents. This includes how parties go about proving elements of a claim and the types of damages that are available. However, when state and federal law conflict, the U.S. Constitution provides that federal law shall prevail.
The Graves Amendment refers to a 2005 bill that was introduced by Senator Graves from Missouri. Essentially, the Amendment provides that those who own or lease a vehicle cannot be liable for any injuries that result from the use of that vehicle solely by their ownership of the vehicle. This commonly comes up in car accident cases where the at-fault driver is either driving a rental car or driving a leased vehicle. A recent state appellate decision discusses the Graves Amendment.
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was riding his motorcycle along the highway when another vehicle turned out in front of him. The plaintiff was left with no time to react, and crashed into the motorist. The other driver leased the vehicle from the defendant.
The plaintiff filed a personal injury case against the defendant, claiming that the defendant was vicariously liable for the at-fault driver’s negligence. Without acknowledging that the Graves Amendment would preclude the plaintiff from holding the defendant liable, the plaintiff argued that the federally-enacted Graves Amendment did not preempt a state law holding that a permissive driver is considered to be an agent of the owner. In other words, the plaintiff argued that the Graves Amendment only applied in situations and jurisdictions where there was not a specific law legislating to the contrary.
The court disagreed, finding that the Graves Amendment preempted the state’s vicarious liability statute. The court explained that the state law conflicted with the Graves Amendment because the state law imposed liability where the federal law explicitly forbade it. Thus, under preemption law, the court explained that federal law must prevail.
Importantly, the court’s decision has no bearing on the plaintiff’s ability to pursue a claim against the at-fault driver or any other party that may have shared responsibility in causing the accident.
Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Car Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. At the Maryland personal injury law firm, Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, we provide an exceptional level of representation to injury victims in all types of cases, including those arising out of Maryland car accidents. We also help clients across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. in truck accidents, slip and fall accidents, and incidents of medical malpractice. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with an attorney to discuss your case, call 410-654-3600 today. Because we work on a contingency basis, we are only paid if you recover compensation for your injuries.