An estimated 100 million tourists and vacationers will visit Florida this year, and a large portion of them will rent a car to get around town. In fact, Orlando International Airport is the largest car rental hub in the entire world . Inherent with this large amount of rental car drivers is rental car accidents. Unlike auto accidents involving drivers of personal vehicles, the law becomes more complex when rental cars are involved.
There are many serious accidents involving rental cars on Florida roads each year. Because of this, legal questions often arise after a rental car driver is involved in an accident. The most common question: Is the rental car company liable for damages because they are the owner?
According to a Florida Supreme Court decision, the answer is: no.
The (private) owner of a car who lends it to another is legally responsible for the driver’s negligence, even if the owner did nothing wrong. This is known as Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Law. However, rental car companies are now shielded from liability by Federal law.
In a case known as Vargas v. Enterprise* in 2011, it was decided that when drivers or passengers of rental vehicles—short-term leased vehicles, less than one year—are involved in an accident, the rental car company is no longer responsible for any injuries caused by the negligence of the rental car driver .
The Supreme Court ruled that the Graves Amendment** preempted (or blocked) a section*** of the Florida Statutes that pertains to short term auto leases. Simply stated, rental car companies have no liability regarding rental car accidents simply because they own the car .
Unless an injured party can prove that the rental company was negligent in some way, any suit brought against the rental company, based on ownership alone, would be thrown out of court. Examples of a rental car company’s negligence may include:
- failure to train their employees properly
- failure to supervise their workers
- negligently entrusting the rental car to a driver they shouldn’t have allowed to rent in the first place
- failing to keep the rental car properly maintained
However, if the injured accident victim cannot prove that the rental car company was negligent, then the rental car company cannot be held what is called “vicariously liable” for the accident victim’s damages.
This is true even though Florida’s “dangerous instrumentality” doctrine finds other kinds of owners of vehicles, who have loaned or otherwise allowed their vehicles to be driven by someone else, liable. For example, parents who allow their children to drive their cars or employers who allow their employees to use the company car .
Rental car companies have tried to limit their liability towards the injured parties in car accidents as much as they can by writing stipulations into their agreements. In the contract between the rental car company and the person renting the vehicle, it is common to find language that states that the person who rented the car agrees to follow certain steps in the event of an accident or else they cannot seek damages from the rental car company.
The rental car contract may include stipulations, like deadlines for when the rental car driver must report the accident to the company, how that reporting must be done and to whom they must report, and the need for obtaining police assistance at the accident site, among other things.
Just in case the language of the Graves Amendment doesn’t work to protect the rental car company from claims brought by the rental car driver, they add language into the lease agreement to limit its liability for any damages suffered by rental drivers.
When the rental car company is not liable—as they often are not with the new rules and because of their contracts—then the actual driver is likely to become the target of a lawsuit, or will seek to file a lawsuit against another driver. Because of this fact, it is a smart idea for the driver of a rental vehicle to purchase Under Insured Motorist (UIM), or Uninsured Motorist (UM), protection from the rental car company.
Rental car companies always try to sell insurance to protect their vehicles, but there is no motivation for them to sell UIM or UM insurance—due to their immunity under the above federal and state laws—although it is available. Florida law requires drivers of motor vehicles to carry Personal Injury Insurance (PIP) of $10,000 and the same amount for property damage.
Purchasing Supplemental Liability Insurance can provide the operator of a rental vehicle with an additional $1 million of coverage, typically in UM and UIM insurance coverage, when the other driver’s limits are too low to cover medical costs and compensation coverage for pain and suffering.
Injuries such as traumatic brain injuries, spine injuries, fractures, disfigurement, burns, and many others can have long term, life altering results costing an enormous amount of money in medical expenses and lost wages. The total quality of life can be significantly diminished, as well.
The Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA represents accident victims that were driving, or were passengers in, rental cars. Our rental car injury attorneys know how to navigate the complex laws regarding rental cars and insurance in Florida. If you were injured while driving a rental car, you have no case against the rental car company unless some form of negligence can be proven. You need an attorney that has the investigative resources to determine the true cause of the accident and fight to recover the compensation you deserve. Contact Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA today, for a free evaluation of your case at (727) 451-6900. You deserve the best representation available anywhere in Florida.