Accidents that occur while driving a rental car are often a result of a motorist who is driving an unfamiliar vehicle in unfamiliar surroundings, but they can also occur due to the negligence of other drivers on the road. Whether on vacation or traveling for business, rental car accidents are inconvenient and often lead to questions about who is responsible for covering damage to the vehicle.
The oversimplified answer is that the renter is responsible for damages or loss to a rental car while it’s in their care. Rental agreements outline the obligation of the renter to return the vehicle in the same condition they received it, even if they are involved in an accident that isn’t their fault. If a rental vehicle is returned in a lesser condition than it was received, the renter is financially liable for the cost of repairs or replacement.
If you’re found to be at fault for an accident you have in a rental vehicle, your insurance company is responsible for paying damages. If the other driver is at fault, his or her insurance is on the hook for repair or replacement, as well as any personal injuries sustained by you.
Sometimes rental car accident claims are challenged by insurance or rental companies who want to avoid paying out large settlements. If you encounter issues with receiving the compensation you deserve following an accident involving a rental vehicle, contact the attorneys at Berry Law. They can handle the details of your case and help ensure you get a fair settlement.
Before Renting a Vehicle
There are several steps that a driver can take before driving a rental vehicle off of the lot to protect himself or herself from dealing with large out-of-pocket costs later. Review personal auto insurance policies to determine whether they include comprehensive and collision coverage or liability only. Doing so can allow a renter to make an informed decision about whether they will need supplemental insurance to protect a rental vehicle in case of an accident.
Since even small scratches to a vehicle can be costly to repair, a renter should always examine a rental car carefully and document any scratches, dings or other damage for the rental company to keep on file. The renter should also receive a copy of that document for their own records.
Noting all damage, regardless of how insignificant it might seem and taking photos of the vehicle before getting behind the wheel protects the driver from later claims of damage that was already present.
Before signing a rental agreement, a driver should check again to make sure the car is covered by the right insurance in case of any accident. Three potential sources for coverage of rental vehicles include a personal car insurance policy, the rental car company insurance, or a credit card used to rent the vehicle in question.
Personal Car Insurance Policies
The coverage a driver carries for his or her own personal vehicle may cover many of the expenses in the case of a rental car accident. The most important type of auto insurance to have in any situation is liability insurance.
Personal Liability Insurance covers any damage to another driver’s property or self that you may cause while driving a rental vehicle, including medical expenses. Most major car rental agencies offer supplemental liability protection that a renter can purchase when renting a vehicle. If a driver doesn’t carry personal liability car insurance, he or she should buy the supplemental liability insurance offered. Otherwise, they could be financially liable for medical and car repair expenses of another driver they hit.
A personal car insurance policy that includes comprehensive and collision coverage will cover damage or loss to your own property as well. It may also pay out for bodily injuries that you or your passengers sustain in the event of a car rental accident. Sometimes it will also cover the cost of ambulance services or death benefits.
Car insurance that offers medical and personal injury protection will provide overlapping coverage for medical expenses, but deductibles and co-insurance costs may still apply. If another driver is at fault for the accident, their insurance coverage should pick up those expenses. Secondary coverage can fill in the gaps if you’re found at fault.
Policies that include personal effects coverage will pay for lost or damaged personal property that was in the vehicle at the time of an accident, such as luggage or electronics. Homeowners or renter’s insurance should provide similar coverage, so it may be unnecessary to buy additional insurance for this reason. However, drivers should take the time to understand what their policy will and won’t cover.
Roadside assistance protection is another type of personal car insurance that a driver may consider, especially when they plan to be far from home. These policies reimburse motorists for the cost of a tow truck in case of an accident.
If there are discrepancies in what an insurance company is willing to offer versus the costs that have actually been incurred in a rental car accident, an attorney may advise you to file a personal injury lawsuit against the car insurance company, rental car company, or the other driver’s insurance if they are at fault. A settlement should cover any costs beyond typical insurance coverage.
Rental Agency Insurance
Car rental agencies offer supplemental insurance to anyone renting a vehicle with them. This coverage is usually secondary to personal car insurance and is meant to fill in the gaps when those policies don’t pay for all of the expenses. Supplemental policies aren’t required, but they must be purchased at the time of rental, not after an accident has occurred. The type of personal car insurance a driver already has often determines the type of supplemental insurance they might need.
Personal car insurance policies with collision and comprehensive coverage typically extend to cars a driver rents as well. But if a policy covers liability only, a driver who is found at fault for an accident will be financially responsible for damage to the rental car. When a personal auto policy only covers liability, it’s a good idea to purchase a collision damage waiver from the agency renting the car.
Collision damage waivers are not insurance policies. They waive any vehicle replacement or repair costs a rental sustains due to damage or theft. Waivers do not cover damage that is proven to be caused by reckless driving or damage that occurs while an unauthorized driver is operating the vehicle.
Another reason to consider purchasing a damage waiver is in cases where a personal car insurance policy doesn’t include rental coverage. Without it, a renter can expect to cover the cost of the extra days the rental car will be out of service while undergoing repairs. Since repair work can take a week or more, that cost could be substantial. Taking out extra insurance or a collision damage waiver from the rental company can help a renter avoid extra rental day expenses.
Even with full coverage personal insurance policies, there will probably still be out-of-pocket expenses like deductibles. Policy holders also run the risk of rising insurance premiums when they file a claim. If the cost of the deductible on a personal policy is higher than the cost of the collision damage waiver offered to you, it might be a good buy and provide peace of mind in the long run.
Credit Card Insurance
When using a major credit card to book a rental vehicle, the credit card company may provide some rental insurance if there’s an accident. The credit card must be used to pay for the full cost of the rental and be in the driver’s name to recoup damages. It’s usually for collision damage to the rental only and doesn’t cover injuries.
The card company only fills in the gap in cases where a renter has not already purchased supplementary insurance from the rental agency, and it sometimes excludes coverage of more expensive or large model vehicles likes SUVs or trucks.
Other restrictions may include rentals outside of the United States or those that are being rented for an extended period of time, typically more than a month. The credit card insurance also will not cover liability or pay for another driver’s property or medical expenses if you’re found to be at fault for an accident.
The bottom line is that credit cards are only secondary rental insurance, meant to be used to pick up uncovered expenses after primary insurance has been applied.
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What To Do If You’re In A Rental Car Accident
There are many steps you should take after an accident in a rental car.
Secure the Scene & Seek Help
Pull over to the shoulder of the road if possible and check for injuries to either party. Even minor injuries can be serious, so call for an ambulance if anyone is hurt. Law enforcement will also arrive to start an accident report.
Get the information of all parties involved, including name, address, phone number, insurance company and policy number, vehicle registration, and license plate number. It’s also smart to write down the contact information of any witnesses to the accident in case they are needed later.
Watch Your Words
Avoid phrases that imply fault for the accident, such as “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t see you.” Be polite to police and other parties involved, but say as little as possible about the accident since whatever you say could be used later in court proceedings.
Keep Detailed Records
Save all medical and billing records of injuries sustained or property damage estimates from an accident. These could be important for demonstrating later the damages owed in a personal injury case if one becomes necessary.
Contact the Rental Company
Let the rental agency know there’s been an accident. There should be an emergency number located in the car rental agreement paperwork. A representative will provide information on how to proceed. They may want a renter to complete an independent incident report for the rental agency to have on file.
Contact the Responsible Insurance Agency
If there’s a personal auto policy in the rental car driver’s name, contact the insurance company to file a claim. If the other driver in an accident is found to be at fault, his or her personal insurance policy or rental car insurance will pick up the tab. The rental company may choose to deal directly with the other party’s insurance, or they may charge the renter directly. In that case, you will be responsible for recouping the costs from the responsible party’s insurance company yourself.
Reach Out to an Attorney from Berry Law
If there are discrepancies about who has financial liability for a rental car accident or how much is owed to cover damages, call an experienced lawyer knowledgeable in rental accidents to review your case. They can help determine whether or not you’re getting a fair settlement based on the evidence.