The rental car business is big – and that creates some major accident opportunities. But for many people who have an accident in a rental vehicle they are immediately worried about liability and legal issues.
The U.S. car-rental industry is worth almost $40 billion according to IBIS World. That is a massive industry and there is much that can go wrong – particularly if you are a rental car driver who has an accident.
Some rental car companies see the ‘accident issue’ as a profit center and those with a more cutthroat attitude have seen a ‘ding-and-dent scam’ situation where they will charge either an insurer or the car renter with an inflated price for the repair of minor scrapes and ‘dings’. This has resulted in lawsuits against the companies and the major car rental companies avoid that sort of activity, although smaller, cheaper operators will sometimes continue to work the scam.
However legitimate legal issues also arise during the car rental situation, particularly where there is an accident, and the questions that arise will see you looking at your car rental agreement, which may have more information about car accident process and offer additional steps you can take to remedy the situation.
Key Steps To Take When Renting a Car
You need to ensure you know exactly what your rights and obligations are and the liabilities that exist when you rent. Know what you are covered for and what exclusions apply, which should ideally be done ahead of time so you can get the best deal in terms of pricing and liability.
Most states require rental car companies to provide the state’s minimum liability coverage on their vehicles when you rent the car, although some states, like California, do not have the requirements and there is therefore a major risk for those uninsured rental car renters who have an accident and can face very substantial costs and a license suspension.
Should you take rental car insurance?
Although your rental car costs reduce if you refuse insurance, your liability increases. Remember it is usually illegal to drive a rental car without insurance.
Most personal auto insurance policies cover car rentals, but you need to check the coverage limit and the deductible on the policy. If your auto policy extends to car rentals, you are covered for both collision and liability up to the limits of your coverage.
If you want to reduce costs you are better taking the ‘one driver’ option, booking earlier (which can save significant money), avoid smoking in the car or carrying pets and return the car as clean as possible (cleaning the vehicle is another profit center for some car rental companies) and also avoid making that last minute booking through the airport desk.
But what about when you DO have an accident? What steps should you take to put yourself in the best position to handle any defense required or any other legal claim?
Check on Your Passengers
If you have passengers in your vehicle at the time of the car accident, it’s critical to make sure everyone else is okay, including yourself. Afterward, check your immediate surroundings and proceed to safely pull over on the side of the road if possible. If it is a serious accident, dial 911 immediately and report the situation as it unfolded. If there is an ongoing fire or another active hazard, it is highly advised to clear the area.
Making yourself and your passengers, as well as other road users safe, is the key priority here. At the end of the day you have a problem to deal with and you do not want to have a further accident as a result of your not having put the rental car into a safe situation following your own accident.
Document the Accident Details
Reporting your car accident will benefit you in the long run, especially when dealing with your rental car company and your auto insurance provider. The more information you gather, the better the chances of proving your case to determine who is at fault. Taking photos of the scene and the vehicles involved is good practice and will help your situation down the track should matters go to court or even when you deal with the insurance company.
If law enforcement gets involved, provide them with your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and other information asked of you
At the scene of the accident, avoid telling other drivers or the police who you think is at fault (even if you think it was you). Any accusations or statements made by you can be used against you in a court of law. You can display some empathy by asking if other drivers are okay, but if other drivers start to act hostile toward you, it’s better to wait for law enforcement to arrive to avoid a confrontation and creating a situation that can become more serious than it already is.
Call Your Rental Car Provider
Calling your rental car company to inform them of your car accident is the next necessary step so they can prepare their own reports and paperwork for the insurance claim.
If you are not familiar with the process, don’t hesitate to ask the company how to proceed. Your rental car company will have you fill out their version of an accident report, including information on the accident and other details.
Contact Your Own Auto Insurance Provider
If you are entirely relying on your car insurance as your primary source of coverage, inform your auto insurance provider of the accident to establish a claim for the damage. If you have any questions, you can get in touch with an auto insurance agent and ask them how your policy applies to your accident.
If you have collision and liability coverage, there is a high probability that the damages will be covered, including any injuries as a result of the accident. However, not every auto insurance provider has the same policies; it’s also best to find out if you have a deductible that you have to pay out of pocket and what that amount is.
Source: Kirakosian Law, Los Angeles.