At some point, virtually everybody will have to rent a car in order to get around, whether it’s while traveling or while your own car is getting repaired. But what happens when you are driving a rental car and you are involved in an accident? Are you insured? By who? Can you be held liable for damages even when they are not your fault? These are all common questions we see when people are involved in accidents in rental vehicles. Here are a few answers to some common questions about rental car accidents.
Do I Have to Pay?
The short answer? Most likely. Even if the accident wasn’t your fault in any way.
When you sign the contract for a rental car, you agree to a number of terms, one of which indicates that you will be held responsible for any and all damages on the vehicle that are not marked on the document. While each company has a different process for checking out their vehicles, these damages will usually be noted in an inspection performed at the start of your rental. If you are unsure as to any damages, ask your rental agent. It’s better to be safe than sorry. If your car returns with damage not indicated by that initial inspection, the rental car agency has the right to collect for damages to their vehicle.
When you are in an accident, exchange information with the other driver like you normally would and inform your insurance company and find out if they will cover you while you were driving a rental vehicle (most insurance policies carry over to the rental in some form). This is important because they may cover the cost of the damages, similar to if you were in an accident in your own personal car. Your own liability insurance will also be used to cover any injuries or property damage you may have caused.
My Insurance Covers Rental Cars, So I’m Worry Free, Right?
Almost. Assuming your full-coverage policy transfers to rentals, you still have a financial responsibility in the form of your deductible.
When you go to return the car, the rental company will ask you to file a claim with your insurance, and then provide them with that claim, the police report, and a statement about the incident, which they keep for their own investigation purposes. They will also require that you pay your collision deductible in full along with the balance owed on your rental. Since your deductible is your responsibility in any incident, your insurance company will not cover this, and the provider will require it to get a full repair through your policy. And once again, yes, they will make you do this even if the accident was not your fault because the contract you signed holds you responsible for the damage to the vehicle.
What about the Extra Insurance?
Rental car companies frequently offer additional protections that can be purchased to cover the vehicle while it is in your possession. If you opt to buy these products, such as a collision damage waiver, then the rental car company may still take a statement as to what happened for their own investigative purposes, but will not require you to pay anything out of pocket for the damages or file any claims with your insurance, so long as you have not violated the terms of the waiver (extreme reckless driving or driving off-road are just a couple examples of things that can void the waiver). This is the “walk-away” option, but you may still be held liable for any damages you may be at fault for, which will mean a liability claim will be made to your own policy if you did not opt for additional liability coverage.
Some travel companies will also offer additional protections on rental vehicles. Before opting to purchase these, however, it is important to read their fine print. Some of these policies are second-party, meaning they only pay for damages after you have exhausted your own primary insurance policy, which means you will still have to file a claim with your own policy if any damage happens and you do not avoid the negative consequences of having to do so.
Bryan Caulfield, Esq. has assisted Tampa Bay’s injured and bereaved for many years, recovering millions of dollars for his clients. His excellence in practice has earned him both a 10.0 Superb rating from Avvo® and Board Certification as a Civil Trial Attorney by the Florida State Bar, a distinction earned by less than two percent of all licensed attorneys in Florida.
Have you been involved in an accident in a rental car and have questions about your rights? Contact Bryan Caulfield, Esq. today and request a free initial consultation for your case.