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Graves Amendment: NY Court Holds an Intermodal Chassis is a Motor Vehicle Protected from State Vicarious Liability Law
     In an appellate case of first impression in the country, the New York Appellate Division ruled unanimously on September 30, 2015, that the Graves Amendment preemption against state motor vehicle vicarious liability laws, extends to intermodal chassis. The decision comes in Eisenberg v. Cope Bestway Express, Inc., in which the principal respondent, Interpool, Inc., was represented by our John Lane. The New York venue is important because of the state’s far-reaching vicarious liability law, Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388, which the Graves Amendment (49 U.S.C. § 30106) expressly preempts. 

     Plaintiff Samantha Eisenberg was injured in a car-truck collision in Rochester, New York. The truck consisted of a tractor owned by Cope Bestway Express, hauling a CSX container, mounted on an Interpool chassis. Ms. Eisenberg sued all three, claiming that Interpool and CSX bore vicarious liability by statute. Interpool’s successful defense was based on the Graves Amendment. John argued, and the court unanimously agreed, that a chassis, with wheels, brakes, and lights, is the functional equivalent of a trailer and is subject to the same federal regulations. CSX also succeeded, on other grounds.  

     Intermodalism is the linchpin of today’s international commerce. Shipping containers travel on ships worldwide, and on trains throughout North America. They are carried on highways nation-wide by truckers, en route to and from ocean and rail terminals, mounted on intermodal chassis. Short-term leases of chassis occur tens of thousands of times daily throughout the United States.

     New York has several rail terminals within its borders, as well as seaports in New York City and on its northern reaches. Intermodal truck traffic also enters from neighboring states to the east and west. The Eisenberg decision confirms that lessors of intermodal chassis being operated within New York will be afforded the crucial protection from VTL § 388, provided under the Graves Amendment. We are confident the decision will be persuasive outside New York, as well.  

    A copy of the decision is available for download here.


© October, 2015, Law Offices of John C. Lane


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