What Should Motorists Know About Rental Car Accidents?

Car accidents in the Baltimore area involve a wide range of vehicles, but drivers often forget about rental cars. When rental cars crash, there are varying levels of liability and several different entities that might get involved. Someone who rents a car needs to know their rights and how they are held accountable for damage to rental vehicles.

Additionally, drivers who are involved in accidents with rental cars may be confused by how these vehicles are covered. Rental car companies often make this situation more confusing and expensive for the customer. Drivers need to know how they are insured, how they can recover damages, and how to protect their rights.

Rental car companies make billions of dollars every year, and they are not willing to give away any of that money even if they are somehow responsible for an accident. Likewise, insurance companies are resistant to the idea that they must pay every valid claim that is processed. Drivers should speak to an experienced car accident lawyer when it is clear that a simple accident cannot be resolved quickly.

Did the Rental Car Cause the Accident?

When someone in a rental car causes an accident, insurance should pay for all damages. If someone crashes into a rental car, their insurance pays for the accident. Issues arise, however, when the rental car driver or owner does not have the necessary insurance to cover accidents and/or damages. If the client is involved in an accident while driving a rental car, they need to know how insurance was provided and which insurance policy to use. Additionally, someone who is injured by a rental car needs to know which insurance company they can file their claims against.

A police report from the accident and eyewitness statements will explain who caused the accident, who is liable, and which insurance policy will be used to cover the accident.  Car accident lawyers will review all the data from the accident, relevant insurance policies, and explain to their clients how to proceed.

How is a Rental Car Insured?

Drivers across Maryland are required to carry auto insurance before they get behind the wheel. Anyone who drives without insurance can be cited and/or fined. In many cases, a driver’s personal insurance policy is often the best protection they can get.

When someone rents a car, they are most often offered insurance by the rental company. The rental company, however, adds several stipulations to the rental contract. Insurance offered by the rental car company is often framed as a collision damage waiver. This seems like a level of protection that the driver needs, but the collision damage waiver covers only rental car damage, not other expenses incurred because of the accident.

Drivers who have car insurance can use their personal insurance policy to pay for damages after an accident. Regardless of the coverage that is chosen, the rental contract can hold drivers responsible for all damages up to and including the value of the vehicle.

Therefore, drivers should be insured before renting a car. In some situations, a person might have a driver’s license and no car. As a result, they do not have insurance, but the collision damage waiver offered by the rental company does not protect them completely. These waivers allow the rental company to hold the driver responsible for damages in the situations:

  • They have broken the law.
  • They have driven recklessly.
  • The driver takes the vehicle to an unauthorized location.
  • The driver takes the vehicle off-road.
  • An unauthorized driver takes the wheel.

These stipulations are important. Someone who purchased a collision damage waiver may have a false sense of security, because they might pay significant amounts of money to satisfy the rental car company after they have been accused of violating the terms of their rental contract.

Not only is the collision damage waiver voided in these circumstances, but also the driver’s own insurance policy offers a much wider breadth of coverage. For example, the driver’s comprehensive insurance policy covers damages if the driver goes off-road, if the vehicle leaves the state, or if someone else was driving. The waiver, then, becomes an income producer for rental companies.

No matter who was at the wheel, distracted driving, drowsy driving, drunk driving, and reckless driving will void a collision damage waiver and make recovering damages difficult. If the victim can show that the other driver was drunk, drowsy, reckless, or distracted, they improve their chances of receiving compensation in a lawsuit.

A car accident lawyer will review the collision damage waiver, ensure it is written lawfully, and challenge the rental company if they have acted in bad faith. In some cases, the driver’s personal car insurance policy might not pay for the driver’s damages if they are in a rental car. Drivers should call the insurance company for clarification before renting a car.

How Many Insurance Policies are Involved?

When an accident involves a rental car, the rental agency’s insurance company, the driver’s insurance company, and the at-fault party’s insurance company are all involved. The rental company might also offer additional coverage such as the following:

  • Supplemental liability protection. This coverage pays for personal injuries and property damage, but it is still governed by the rules set forth by the rental company, which can void the coverage in several instances.
  • Personal accident insurance. Personal accident insurance pays medical bills and offers death benefits where applicable.
  • Personal effects coverage. This coverage pays for the loss of personal belongings during an accident.

The driver might purchase all these plans from the rental company, but they could all be voided if the rental company decides that the driver violated their rules. Drivers should speak to a car accident lawyer about how these insurance plans should pay claims after an accident.

The other insurance companies involved in the accident will try to deflect blame elsewhere so that they can reduce their liability. The insurance company for the at-fault driver might claim that the victim caused the accident. Under Maryland law, contributory negligence will be used to litigate the case. This means that the victim could have all their claims denied if they are shown to have played even a small part in the accident.

If multiple drivers are involved, all the insurance companies will blame every other driver to reduce their liability, in some cases to zero. A lawyer can review the case, show that the victim did nothing to cause their accident, and petition for damages given the insurance coverage that should be provided.

Who was Driving?

For the most part, rental cars are not meant to be driven by anyone other than the renter. When someone is driving a rental car, the rental company assumes that their name is on the contract. If an unauthorized driver is in control of the vehicle, all insurance plans or coverage options offered by the rental company are null and void. The unauthorized driver’s insurance will be used to pay for all damages. If that person is not insured, the driver may need to pay for all damages out of their own pocket or through the uninsured motorist portion of their insurance policy. Although emergencies may arise, the renter should plan to drive the vehicle exclusively during the rental period.

Can the Rental Company Claim Drivers are Not Qualified to Rent?

In short, no. The rental company is checking for a driver’s license, but they are not reviewing the renter’s driving record or criminal history. When someone is hurt in an accident involving a rental vehicle, the rental company does not bear responsibility for the driving prowess of the renter. Rental companies would not have the time to research each renter. When a company rents commercial vehicles, it is merely checking that the renter has a commercial license or has assigned someone with a commercial license to drive the vehicle.

This issue can become even more complicated when a rental company rents large trucks that do not require a commercial driver’s license. For example, someone who is moving might rent a 26-foot truck from a local rental agency. There is no requirement stating that the renter needs a commercial license to drive this truck. However, the driver likely drives a sedan that is a least 10 feet shorter. This driver is not truly prepared to drive such a large truck, but they are allowed to do so because state law does not dictate who can drive these vehicles.

Therefore, when the driver causes an accident, they are liable under their personal car insurance or any insurance they purchased from the rental company. The rental company is liable only if it provided a substandard vehicle. Drivers who believe they have been provided a defective or damaged vehicle should take pictures and collect evidence or refuse delivery of the truck. Once the driver takes delivery of the vehicle, the rental car company can claim that the driver was satisfied with the state of the vehicle.

What Happens if the Driver Paid with a Credit Card?

If the driver paid with a credit card, the credit card issuer might offer insurance to protect rental drivers. Because every bank and every card is different, drivers should check with the issuing bank before renting a car. In some cases, the insurance provided by a credit card issuer is better than even the driver’s personal insurance plan.

Credit cards offer two types of coverage. Primary coverage will pay for damage and medical bills. These plans are powerful, and they provide drivers a high level of protection. Unfortunately, drivers also need secondary coverage that pays for everything not covered by primary insurance. Unfortunately, some drivers believe they have enough insurance when using a credit card, but they might not get the secondary insurance policy they need to cover excess costs.

Was the Vehicle Properly Maintained or Serviced?

Rental companies must maintain, service, and repair their vehicles. Each agency must keep pace with recalls that happen throughout the automotive world. These businesses often rent nearly every brand imaginable, and it can be hard for them to manage all those recalls.

Because of this, an individual rental car agency might not keep its vehicles in top condition. For example, a car manufacturer might have announced a recall on a sedan from last year, but that does not mean the rental agency even noticed. When the business is not organized or diligent, it could miss a wide range of recalls affecting hundreds or even thousands of drivers.

These vehicles are rented so often that rental agencies may believe they do not have time for oil changes or regular services. The rental company might even attempt to resolve recalls on its own without the aid of factory parts or guidance. When it is clear that the vehicle is not maintained properly, drivers can ask a car accident lawyer to look into service records for the vehicle and any information for which the rental agency may have been privy.

Was the Vehicle Defective or Using Defective Parts?

As with any other car accident, defective vehicles or parts make the manufacturer or mechanic liable for any accident. The rental agency might claim that the driver was at fault and request compensation immediately after the accident. The driver, however, should work with a lawyer to investigate the mechanical state of the vehicle.

If a mechanic completed improper repairs, they might become the subject of the lawsuit. If the rental company completes repairs but uses faulty parts, the parts manufacturer is ultimately responsible for the crash. Although the driver’s testimony might speak to a potential defect, their lawyer needs physical evidence showing that a defect or negligence was to blame.

What Happens if the Vehicle was Rented by a Business?

If the vehicle was rented by a business, the business’ insurance policy can be used to pay for damages, assuming that the business has existing automotive coverage. This situation can become even more murky, depending on the relationship the driver has with the business.

If the driver is an independent contractor, their personal insurance will likely be used to pay for the accident. When the driver is a regular employee of the business, the company’s insurance may be used to compensate anyone injured or killed in the accident.

One particularly complex liability issue revolves around ride-sharing vehicles. When the driver is off duty, their personal insurance pays for damages caused in accidents. When the driver is en route to meet a passenger, waiting for a passenger, or carrying a passenger, the corporation’s insurance pays for most accidents. These rules apply if the driver is in a rented vehicle. This, again, is why the driver needs their own insurance policy. They are not covered by someone else in most circumstances.

What Happens if the Rental Company Claims the Driver Damaged the Vehicle?

One aggravating situation is a driver renting a vehicle, using it without incident, and returning the vehicle, only to receive a bill weeks later from the rental company. In situations such as this, the rental company can assign fault to the renter at any time. The rental company is in control of the vehicle once it is returned, and they can blame the driver for any damage they believe was not there when the vehicle was rented.

Anyone who understands how to respond to a car accident knows they should call 911, take pictures of the accident scene including the vehicle, and contact their insurance provider. The same is true every time a rental car is returned. The driver may have used the vehicle without incident, but the rental company might believe otherwise.

Motorists should take pictures of the vehicle before driving away and after returning the vehicle. Drivers can clearly show that any damage on the vehicle was there when they picked it up. They can also challenge a rental company successfully with photographic evidence. A car accident lawyer can provide assistance when the rental company claims the vehicle was damaged or crashed while in possession of the driver.

How Does a Driver Recover Damages after an Accident?

Damages stemming from a rental car accident are no different from damages incurred after an accident in someone’s personal vehicle. When a lawyer files suit to recover these damages, they are requesting money to pay for everything that occurred because of the accident. Damages should include the following:

  • Medical bills incurred at the time of the accident and after
  • Lost income
  • Lost income potential if the victim cannot work
  • Pain and suffering, emotional distress, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Punitive damages if the case is tried before a judge and jury

Although the rental car company may be liable for damages caused by its negligence, car manufacturers, parts manufacturers, and other third parties can be sued. If the insurance company is not paying as promised, the insurance company should be sued. This is especially important if the delay of insurance payments causes harm to the victim or someone who was in the vehicle.

If another driver caused the accident as a result of their recklessness, they can be sued regardless of who provided the vehicle. For example, a drunk driver in a perfectly maintained vehicle bears all the liability for the accident. If a drunk driver is involved in an accident in a defective vehicle, both the driver and the manufacturer, mechanic, or rental company can be sued. Had the vehicle been in good condition, perhaps a drunk driver would not have caused as much carnage.

The lawsuit will become a wrongful death claim if someone was killed in the accident. Requesting wrongful death damages includes burial and administrative expenses for someone who has died. For example, the family needs to hire a lawyer to probate a will.

Families are advised that Maryland intestacy laws apply if the decedent has no will. For example, a decedent with children and no spouse will leave everything to the children. If a spouse and children remain, the spouse inherits half the estate, while the rest is equally distributed among the children. A car accident lawyer can explain how these cases should be litigated and how the estate will be divided once damages have been awarded.

Should I Hire a Lawyer?

Rental car drivers or those who have been injured or lost loved ones in accidents involving rental cars should hire a lawyer as soon as possible. Cases of this nature tend to fade quickly because evidence goes stale or is lost in the aftermath of a crash. For example, someone crashes into the victim while driving a rental car. The rental car company is notified, and they take possession of the vehicle. The police report is not thorough enough, and the lawyer has little evidence to use when filing a lawsuit.

The same is true if drivers are involved in accidents when they are driving a rental car. They have taken pictures of the vehicle, and it was returned to the rental car company. The rental car company might rent the vehicle several times more, causing more damage, and attributing all that damage to the driver. The rental company might also repair the vehicle and destroy any relevant evidence.

A car accident lawyer should be contacted promptly so that the lawyer can file suit before Maryland’s three-year statute of limitations expires on both personal injury and wrongful death cases.

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Assist Victims Injured in Rental Car Accidents

If you have been hurt in a rental car accident, speak to the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton for help with a personal injury lawsuit. We will determine the cause of the accident, and we will hold the negligent party liable for your injuries. We will continue to fight for you until you are completely satisfied, ensuring that you receive the maximum financial compensation you deserve. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online for a free consultation.

Our offices are conveniently located in Baltimore, Columbia, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland’s Western Counties, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of Catonsville, Essex, Halethorpe, Middle River, Rosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, Pikesville, Parkville, Nottingham, Windsor Mill, Lutherville, Timonium, Sparrows Point, Ridgewood, and Elkridge.