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Connecticut Decision Highlights That Rental Car Companies Cannot be Vicariously Liable for Renters’ Negligence

5/17/23

By Victoria James and Maria Alexander

On April 19, 2023, in a case titled Amica Mutual Insurance Company v. Mary Floyd and Elite Auto Rentals, LLC, the Connecticut Superior Court held that a rental company is shielded from liability for the renter’s negligence. For this reason, the court struck the claim against the rental company.

The case arose from an accident wherein Amica Mutual Ins. Co.’s insured was struck by a driver operating a rental car from Elite Auto LLC. In response to the complaint, Elite Auto did not address fault or respond to the allegations of proximate cause, but asserted it was not exposed to liability simply because of its role as having rented the vehicle to the at-fault driver.

Amica claimed that Elite Auto was negligent in seven different ways and that its negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the collision. One of those claims included an allegation of defective brakes but no factual support for the claim. Amica also made multiple allegations regarding insufficient insurance coverage.

Elite Auto’s response to Amica’s claims noted that rental car companies used to be liable for damages caused by the drivers of their rented vehicles under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 14-154a; however, Connecticut’s Supreme Court previously ruled that the Graves Amendment, 49 U.S.C. § 30106(b), preempted the Connecticut statute which imposed vicarious liability on the lessor for damages caused by the negligent acts of the lessee.

In responding to Amica’s additional argument about failure to meet minimum insurance provisions, as required under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 38a-334, Elite Auto asserted that Amica failed to explain how § 38a-334 applied to their case. Further, even if they had attempted to support that claim, Elite Auto pointed out that the Connecticut Supreme Court has applied the Graves Amendment’s insulation from liability to uninsured/underinsured motorist claims with regard to rental car companies.

In the Amica case, the court agreed that the Graves Amendment and many Connecticut cases interpreting the Graves Amendment prevented Elite Auto from being held liable for any damages caused by its renter. The court also reasoned that the claim that Elite Auto failed to carry the minimum required insurance coverage could not be a proximate cause of the collision or the claimed losses and damages.

This case is significant because it reaffirms that rental car companies cannot be liable for the negligence of the renter, despite efforts by plaintiffs to circumvent the purpose of the Graves Amendment by making peripheral, and sometimes specious claims.

For more information, please contact Maria Alexander at [email protected], Victoria James at [email protected] or your local FMG attorney.