Brannock Humphries & Berman Obtains Quick Reversal from Fifth District Court of Appeal
Less than one month after an oral argument in Daytona Beach, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal adopted Brannock Humphries & Berman’s interpretation of the Graves Amendment, a federal statute that deals with vicarious liability for accidents caused by loaner vehicles.
The case turned on the meaning of the phrase “rents or leases” in the law. The defendant, a car dealership, had loaned a vehicle for free to a customer. The customer then injured the plaintiff, who filed a personal-injury lawsuit against the dealership. The dealership secured a judgment in its favor based on the argument that the Graves Amendment protected it from being held liable for the negligence of its customer. The plaintiff then appealed.
With Brannock Humphries & Berman as her appellate counsel, the plaintiff argued that the Graves Amendment did not apply. By its plain terms, that statute protects only those who rent or lease a vehicle. A complimentary loaner, Brannock Humphries & Berman said, is not encompassed within this definition because there is no payment involved.
In a succinct 11-page opinion, the Fifth District agreed. The three-judge panel unanimously ruled that the plain meaning of the phrase “rents or leases” in the Graves Amendment does not cover a dealership’s “gratuitous provision of a loaner vehicle.” Renting and leasing, the appellate court held, require consideration; a reasonable customer would not believe that the provision of a free loaner by a dealership constitutes a lease or rental.
The case will now return to the trial court for further proceedings.