Being in a motor vehicle accident of any kind is a stressful experience that can be compounded when a rental car is involved. Although they look the same on the outside as every other car on the road, it can be tricky to untangle questions of insurance, liability, maintenance, and other factors when rental cars are concerned. Whether rented for vacation, a business trip, a special occasion, or as a temporary stand-in while repairs are made, car rentals fuel a thriving industry. Estimates for last year put the U.S. car rental market’s annual revenue at more than $27 billion, with 2.181 million cars at 21,067 rental locations.
Car rental agencies work by securing fleet vehicles that they loan out for a fee. Rental contracts are complex and include a number of conditions which can vary between companies. Common rules are that the car must be returned in the same condition, can be driven only a certain number of miles, can be operated only by the authorized driver who signed the rental agreement, and can be rented only to licensed drivers of a minimum age. Breaking any of these conditions can result in a host of problems, ranging from extra fees to voiding the contract.
Insurance plays a major role in renting a car.
Each state requires a minimum amount of liability insurance on car insurance policies, so all insured drivers are already covered to some degree when it comes to bodily injury liability and property damage liability. Various forms of supplemental insurance and damage waivers are offered to renters, such as:
- Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) — covers the cost of damage from a moving accident. As the name suggests, non-collision based damage is often not covered.
- Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) — covers the cost of damage to the rental car in the event of an accident.
- Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) — covers medical costs and accidental death for the renter and passengers.
- Personal Effects Coverage (PEC) — insures against risk of loss or damage to the renter’s personal belongings.
- Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI) — provides coverage where an accident causes bodily injury or property damage to someone other than the renter and passengers.
Renters may decline these options because their own car insurance policies are sufficient. Coverage varies widely, though the general rule is that a rental is considered a replacement vehicle, so the coverage extends to it from the main vehicle. Collision coverage not under a driver’s car insurance is likely tendered by the credit card used to pay for the rental. Major credit card companies may offer more loss and damage insurance than a standard auto policy or at least supplemental insurance.
Medical attention should be obtained for anyone who is hurt and driver/insurance information should be exchanged. Each car rental agency has its own reporting process detailed in its paperwork that should be followed. Depending on the circumstances, a rental car accident may involve the renter’s insurer, the insurer of any other drivers involved, the rental car agency, and the credit card company.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, if you do not buy CDW coverage or are not covered by your personal auto insurance policy, you accept responsibility for any damages and could be liable for the full value of the car. If you purchase CDW, your coverage still could be revoked if you damage the rental car while:
- driving in a negligent manner
- driving on unpaved roads
- driving out of state
- driving while intoxicated
- an unauthorized driver operates the car.
Allowing an unauthorized driver to operate the car in breach of a rental agreement’s terms is sufficient to terminate the contract, void all liability protection, and make the renter liable for all penalties, liens, fines, and legal fees. Implied consent, such as leaving the keys in an accessible place, may be enough to hold the renter responsible for any damage done by an unauthorized driver.
Rental car companies may bear legal responsibility for an accident where they failed to properly maintain a vehicle or knew about some dangerous defect associated with a vehicle and one of those factors played a role in the accident. A federal law was recently passed that now requires rental car agencies to fix any and all open safety defects before renting out vehicles to customers. Federal law now prohibits any company or dealer with fleets greater than 35 vehicles to rent unrepaired recalled vehicles, and it extends the recall authority of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to cover rental car companies. The NHTSA now has the power to investigate and punish violators.
If you have been hurt in an accident involving a rental car, or have lost someone you love in such an accident, it is important to contact a GA rental car wreck lawyer. The personal injury attorneys at the Mann Law Firm can help by reviewing your circumstances and discussing all available legal options. Call us at 478-742-3381 or fill out our online form. In addition to cases handled in Macon, we are prepared to handle claims on behalf of clients in Dublin, Warner Robins, Milledgeville and other Georgia communities. We would like to meet with you to discuss your case, and we are proud to offer free initial consultations.
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