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What Happens if I Get in an Accident in a Rental Car?

Posted on 10/25/23

Rental cars are everywhere on the streets of West Chester and beyond. While these cars are helpful for visitors and people in need of temporary transportation, they also bring up new issues. If you are involved in an accident while riding a rental car, you may be interested in the challenges involved. Who is responsible? Is the rental company liable? Wilk Law, your trusted West Chester car accident attorney, has experience in handling these complex cases.

Accidents involving rental cars sometimes create questions regarding liability and insurance coverage. Rental companies offer their customers a variety of insurance options. If the driver has chosen additional insurance, the rental company is responsible for supplying coverage. However, other issues come into play if the driver declines the extra insurance.

A rental company’s responsibility goes beyond insurance. If, for example, they rented a car to someone unsuitable to drive, such as someone who was intoxicated or had a suspended license, they could face charges of “negligent entrustment.” The reason for renting the car is also essential. Was the vehicle getting used for an activity it was not designed for, like towing a heavy load with a compact car? All of these events can impact the result of a claim.

If you ride with someone unfamiliar with the West Chester area, the driver might be unaware of specific local driving rules or road layouts, which could lead to an accident. Distractions, whether from work or the excitement of a trip, can also play a role.

Our thorough legal investigation at Wilk Law will investigate every aspect of a rental car-related accident, ensuring we consider every possibility. You’re taking the first step towards getting more information and justice by contacting us. To start your journey to a settlement, click on “Contact Us.” Trust Wilk Law to be by your side and guide you through every aspect of your case. We are prepared and happy to help.

Liability for a Rental Car Accident In Pennsylvania

Understanding the state’s specific insurance requirements becomes critical when dealing with a rental car accident in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is known for having “choice no-fault” insurance. This means that determining who was at fault for the accident can be an essential part of the insurance claims process for accident victims.

To start solving the puzzle of responsibility, establish who caused the accident. Was it your actions that caused the crash, or was it the other driver’s? This is simple in some cases. Consider situations where you were rear-ended or the other person was driving while impaired. In most of these situations, the other driver is clearly at fault. Also, other obvious signs of negligence, like speeding, ignoring traffic laws, or being distracted behind the wheel, can frequently prove fault.

However, there are other situations where it’s not so simple. Consider the following instance: a distracted driver who is texting pulls out in front of another car. Suppose the second car failed to stop in time because its driver was speeding. In this case, determining who is to blame isn’t easy. Both parties might share some of the guilt, creating a complex web of responsibility. Insurance companies, lawyers, and sometimes the police must go deeper into the event’s details to correctly assign blame.

In Pennsylvania, understanding the fault structure is critical. If the evidence shows that the other driver was at fault, you can usually file a personal injury claim with their insurance company. Different restrictions apply if the tables are turned, the court finds you at fault, or the accident fulfills no-fault criteria. You might have to depend on your insurance coverages, such as health insurance, personal injury protection (PIP), or even the car rental company’s personal accident insurance.

Insurance Coverage Options for Rental Cars in Pennsylvania

While driving through Pennsylvania’s stunning landscapes in a rental car, it’s essential to understand the insurance dynamics at work. Surprisingly, Pennsylvania doesn’t require rental car coverage. However, having the correct coverage could give you peace of mind when you travel.

Pennsylvania rental car companies must carry minimum liability insurance under state regulations. This specifically includes:

  • $15,000 in bodily injury liability coverage per person
  • $30,000 per accident
  • $5,000 in property damage liability coverage for each accident.

Although the state expects drivers to have medical insurance coverage, you don’t have to have it when driving a rented car. Suppose you have a personal car insurance policy with comprehensive or collision coverage or even higher liability limits than the state minimums. In that case, these benefits will usually extend to your rental vehicle.

However, if you do not have personal auto insurance, you could apply for supplementary coverage from the rental agency. Here are some of the additional insurance options you may come across:

  • Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss-Damage Insurance – This shields you from financial responsibility should the rental car be damaged or stolen. It also tackles fees linked to loss-of-use at rental facilities. Some credit cards may automatically provide this type of coverage when used to pay for the rental.
  • Liability Coverage – A staple for many drivers, this insurance protects you from potential accident lawsuits.
  • Personal Accident Insurance – After an accident, medical bills can pile up. This coverage shoulders medical expenses for you and your passengers if you sustain injuries in a collision.
  • Personal Effects Coverage – Pennsylvania’s scenic routes might tempt you to carry cameras, gadgets, or other personal items during your drive. If these get stolen from the car, this coverage can rescue you.

While not mandatory, Pennsylvania rental car insurance may act as an essential safety net. Whether it’s your policy or supplementary coverage from the rental company, proper insurance guarantees a stress-free vacation across this historic state.

Can I Sue the Rental Car Company for Damages?

When an accident involves a rental car, many people ask if they can hold the company liable. The answer is complicated. Since it is challenging to hold rental car businesses accountable in general, there are a few cases where you can hold them liable due to negligence.

Vargas v. Enterprise Leasing Company, a landmark case from 2011, exposed the complex relationship between rental car companies and responsibility. After an accident involving a rental car and other cars, in this case, the injured party filed a lawsuit against both the rental car driver and Enterprise. This rental business owned the vehicle in question.

Enterprise claimed it was not liable since there were no apparent signs of negligence or misconduct during the rental process. The court eventually sided with Enterprise, ruling that a rental car company cannot be held liable for injuries caused by the rental car driver’s negligence. This case effectively established the standard, making keeping rental car businesses accountable more challenging.

Yet, the Vargas v. Enterprise verdict doesn’t mean that rental car companies have complete immunity. You can still hold them liable under specific conditions where you can prove negligence. Examples include:

  • Driver Eligibility Verification – If the rental company was negligent in renting out a vehicle – for example, leasing to a person with a revoked license or not verifying the driver’s license information correctly – they could face legal consequences.
  • Employee Training and Supervision – If the rental company’s employees weren’t trained or supervised correctly, resulting in injuries, this could serve as grounds for a lawsuit.
  • Maintenance and Repair Failures – A key area where rental car companies can face liability is their fleet maintenance. Suppose an accident occurs due to a known or easily identifiable defect in the rental car, which the company ignored or failed to fix. In that case, it gives you solid grounds for proving negligence. However, your West Chester car accident lawyer has to prove that there is a direct link between the vehicle’s defect and the accident and show that the crash resulted in injuries.

In addition, according to a 2016 law released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, rental car companies are restricted from renting cars under recall until the flaw is fixed and resolved. Non-compliance could subject the rental company to lawsuits and other fines.

Who is Responsible to Cover Damages in a Pennsylvania Rental Car Accident?

If you’re involved in an accident with a rental car in Pennsylvania, and you’re at fault, your responsibility for damages will depend on your insurance coverage:

Purchased CDW from Rental Company

If you’ve bought the collision damage waiver (CDW), the cost for most vehicle repairs or replacements will get shifted to the rental company. However, this doesn’t cover liability for medical or property damage expenses. You’d use your personal insurance or the rental company’s supplemental liability coverage for that.

Personal Insurance Coverage

Many personal auto insurance policies extend to rental cars. They can cover both collision and liability up to your policy limits.

Credit Card Coverage

Some premium credit cards offer rental car coverage when you pay for the rental with the card. This coverage usually encompasses vehicle damage, not liability.

No Coverage

If you’re at fault and have no coverage, you’re liable for damages to the rental car and any liability issues. If you aren’t at fault, the rental company might work with the other driver’s insurance, but they may initially charge you.

State laws often require rental companies to provide minimum liability coverage on their vehicles. Pennsylvania mandates drivers to have minimum insurance coverage, which includes $5,000 for medical benefits, $15,000 for bodily injury liability per person, and $5,000 for property damage.

Additional Coverage Options

  • Personal Car Insurance – It might cover property damage and injuries in a rental car accident.
  • Rental Car Company – Check to see if your current policies and credit card perks give enough protection before booking because rental companies sometimes offer extra insurance.

When Another Party is at Fault

If another driver’s negligence caused the accident, you’d typically file a claim with their insurance. Depending on their policy or if your claim is denied, you might resort to your insurance. Retaining a Pennsylvania personal injury attorney can help you explore each of the compensation possibilities.

What is a “Substitute Vehicle Clause” and How Does it Affect My Claim?

A “Substitute Vehicle Clause” is a condition in many car insurance policies that provides coverage for cars you may drive temporarily but do not own, such as a rented car. It treats the rental or substitute car like your insured vehicle, with the same coverages and restrictions.

This clause can be helpful if you are involved in an accident while driving a rental or substitute car. It allows you to file a claim with your own insurance company, making use of the coverage you have for your vehicle. This means that if you have comprehensive or collision insurance on your car, those policies will also apply to the rental vehicle, subject to any deductibles. However, you should always read your policy and talk with your insurance provider to determine the extent of your coverage and any potential limitations.

What Happens if the At-Fault Driver is Uninsured or Underinsured?

If you are in an accident and the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured, you might have to count on the uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in your insurance policy. It helps by paying your expenses when the responsible party can’t. When driving a rental car, having enough coverage is critical because you could be held liable for all damages if you’re at fault.

Steps to Take if You Get in an Accident in a Rental Car

If you’re involved in a rental car accident, there are several steps you should take right after it, including:

  • Get to Safety – Check on the condition of everyone involved. If significant injuries are visible, call 911 immediately. In addition, check the vehicles for possible hazards such as fires or exposed wiring.
  • Document the Scene
    • Exchange contact and insurance information with other drivers.
    • Take note of the vehicle’s details and other cars’ license plates.
    • Take pictures of the accident scene and damage and document the spot’s details.
  • Contact the Rental Company – Contact the car rental agency using the contact details usually found inside the vehicle. They’ll guide you on the next steps.
  • Contact Your Insurance – Report the accident to your insurance provider. They’ll ask for:
    • A police report
    • Coverage specifics like collision or comprehensive coverage
    • Your deductible amount
  • Determine the Damage Amount – If you do not choose the rental company’s damage coverage, your insurance will most likely pay the expenses, subject to the deductible on your policy. If the rental period gets extended due to the accident, you will be charged for the extra days. The process could vary if you bought supplementary insurance or a damage waiver with your rental. Some insurance policies may just need you to pay the premium and the deductible.

What if The Accident Happens Out-of-State?

When you are involved in an out-of-state crash, different factors come into play that may complicate the case. First, each state has its own set of rules concerning car accidents. This means that the laws determining responsibility, insurance requirements, and claim deadlines may differ depending on where the accident occurred. While most car insurance policies provide coverage throughout the United States, it’s important to note that your insurance claim may get adjusted to meet the minimal criteria of the state where the accident happened.

In addition, jurisdiction becomes a critical issue in out-of-state accidents. A lawsuit resulting from an event like this usually gets filed in the state where the accident happened, which could involve dealing with new local legal systems and possibly working with an attorney in that state.

Knowledgeable Car Accident Attorneys in West Chester

Wilk Law, founded by Tyler Wilk, offers steadfast commitment and experience to clients in West Chester who have been involved in a car accident. We ensure clients are well-represented and informed throughout the procedure using a professional approach and extensive knowledge. Choose Wilk Law for dependable West Chester car accident lawyers, and contact us today.