In Florida tourism is big business, contributing nearly $15 billion to its economy. Last year alone, nearly 14 million people from 181 countries visited Florida's theme parks, attractions and beaches.
International tourists commonly arrive by plane and rent a car at the airport. The rental car industry depends in large part on tourism. Enterprise Rent-A-Car for example, a privately owned corporation, also owns Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental. It is the largest rental car company with over 6,000 domestic locations and a million rented vehicles currently on the road.
The rental car business in Florida is booming which may help explain why Florida's Governor Scott turned down $2.4 billion in federal money last year, keeping out the proposed high-speed rail. So it is not surprising that when Florida enacted a law requiring foreign drivers to show a valid International Driving Permit (IDP) to rent a car, it enraged certain players in the rental car industry. The idea was simply to verify and identify foreign drivers that are capable, at least in their home country, of operating a motor vehicle.
Incredibly, Florida's Department of Transportation refused to enforce the IDP law. And this month, under enormous pressure from the auto rental insurance industry, Florida's Governor Rick Scott quietly and happily repealed it on April 2, 2013. Today any international tourist that presents a valid driving license from their home country can easily rent and drive a car across Florida.
Florida's Supreme Court also delivered a gift to the rental car industry when it declared the Graves Amendment as constitutional. The Graves Amendment is a federal law that shields car rental and leasing companies from financial responsibility when one of their vehicles is involved in a crash that injures or kills someone.
Alejandro Rosado, a Florida man, was seriously injured in a collision by a leased car owned by Daimler Chrysler. Daimler had leased the car to a Virgina law firm that allowed its accident insurance to lapse. Mr. Rosado sued Daimler Chrysler and challenged the constitutionality of the Graves Amendment. In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Daimler Chrysler, upholding Graves and thereby shielding its corporate profits from an innocently injured man.
Florida's law characterizes a car or truck as a "dangerous instrumentality." Under the law, a dangerous instrumentality is any item that potentially can cause harm to people if used carelessly -- such as dynamite or electrically charged wires. In addition, Florida's vicarious liability law holds the owner of a vehicle responsible for the negligence of anyone who drives their car with their permission. This should have been enough to hold Daimler responsible. Unfortunately, for Mr. Rosado or anyone else who is injured or killed in Florida by a rented or leased car, the court did not agree.
Since rental car companies make money from renting inherently dangerous things, it is unforgivable to give them legal immunity when one of their customers causes a serious traffic accident. If Florida's vicarious liability law holds individual private vehicle owners responsible for the negligence of anyone driving another person's car; there is no reason to hold for-profit commercial car rental companies to a lesser legal standard.
Governor Scott and Florida's Legislature and Supreme Court have mixed up a potentially deadly concoction by allowing rental car companies to place drivers on our highways without being financially accountable when one of their cars injures or kills someone.