The federal ban on vicarious liability for vehicle rental and leasing companies may not be as airtight as its proponents hoped.
A Florida judge ruled last month that a lessor still may be required to pay damages if a state has "financial responsibility" rules for companies that rent or lease vehicles. Florida law makes lessors responsible if their customers have less insurance than the state prescribes.
Under Brevard County Judge Mitchell Barlow's ruling, Enterprise Leasing Co. may have to pay as much as $500,000 to Jo Ellen Poole and Robert Poole. Jo Ellen Poole was injured in a 2002 collision with a vehicle leased from Enterprise.
Enterprise argued that the new federal law absolved the company of liability in the case.
But Barlow ruled that Congress meant to block claims only in states with "unlimited" vicarious liability.
Lawyer Daniel Dill represents Enterprise. An employee of his office told Automotive News that the decision will be appealed.
Joining the case on the Pooles' side was the Center for Constitutional Litigation, a Washington, D.C., firm that represents the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.
The center says that if the Pooles' claim is pre-empted, the federal ban on vicarious liability should be declared unconstitutional. Barlow did not rule on the ban's constitutionality.
You may e-mail Harry Stoffer at [email protected]