Recently, the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion addressing a Florida car accident involving a loaner vehicle. The defendant owns a car dealership that operates a service department. Under the car dealership’s protocol, the dealership provides customers with loaner vehicles while their cars are undergoing service. The current incident arose following a situation when the defendant’s customer caused an accident while using a loaner vehicle from the dealership. The accident victim filed a lawsuit against the dealership for vicarious liability under Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine.
At issue on appeal was (1) whether the defendant rented or leased the vehicle and (2) whether summary judgment was improper because the defendant used conflicting labels for the vehicle. In reviewing the case, the court analyzed the Graves amendment. Under the Graves Amendment, generally, a motor vehicle owner who rents or leases the vehicle to a person shall not be liable under the law for harm that results from the use, operation, or possession of the vehicle during the rental period if the owner is engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles; and (2) there is no negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the owner.
The plaintiff argued that summary judgment in favor of the defendant was improper because the agreement referred to the vehicle as both a “rental” and a “loaner .”Further, the plaintiff argued that the agreement did not contain consideration because there was no payment of money to the loaner. The court first held that the consideration in the agreement was that the driver agreed to bring their car and pay for repairs in exchange for the use of a loaner vehicle. Second, the court further held that whatever label the defendant happened to assign to the car, be it a “loaner” or “rental,” did not control. Instead, the substance of the transaction, not the labels, controls the transaction. Thus, the court held that the defendant enjoyed the protection of the Graves Amendment.