Even if you’ve never rented a car yourself, you’re probably aware of the endless debate over whether it’s worth it for renters to purchase insurance from the rental company.
When you suddenly find yourself in a serious car wreck, and you learn that the at-fault driver rented their vehicle from a company like Budget Rental Car, that argument takes on new meaning. You might wonder if your entire future now rests on that driver’s offhand decision to spend (or not spend) an extra $15 per day.
The reality is a little more complicated than that, and not nearly so grim. As long as you’re not at fault for the accident, and you’re able to find skilled legal representation quickly, you have a good chance of collecting a fair settlement. It just might not come from the source you’re expecting.
Below, we’ll go into detail on the challenges of suing Budget Rental Car, and how we can help make sure you get the resources you need to put your life back together. If at any point you would prefer to discuss your case directly with a lawyer who handles Budget Rental Car accidents in the Atlanta area, feel free to reach out by phone or chat.
When a Car Is Rented, Owner Liability Doesn’t Apply
Ordinarily, if you’re injured in an accident, and the at-fault driver doesn’t own the vehicle they were driving, you have the right to sue both the driver and the owner. In fact, the owner usually bears primary responsibility for the damages.
This is because, while the owner may not have done anything wrong, they are responsible for making sure the vehicle itself is insured. Auto insurance policies are more closely linked with a specific vehicle than a specific driver. Most include coverage for anyone who drives the vehicle with the owner’s permission.
Under the Graves Amendment, however, car rental companies are exempt from most coverage responsibilities for the rental vehicles they own. If a Budget customer causes an accident, Budget isn’t automatically liable on the basis of ownership.
This doesn’t mean that car rental companies are free of all legal responsibility for public safety, however. Companies like Budget do have a duty to maintain their vehicles in safe condition. They’re also responsible for their employees’ actions in the course of carrying out their jobs, just like any employer.
So, if the Budget Rental Car that hit you was being driven by an on-duty Budget employee, or had a physical flaw that could have contributed to the accident, you probably have a case against Budget.
Otherwise, seeking compensation from Budget Rental Car gets much tricker.
Budget Rental Car Technically Provides Insurance, but It’s Full of Exclusions
Georgia law requires car rental companies to make sure their customers are insured to drive. Like most companies in the industry, Budget Rental Car handles this requirement by including basic liability coverage in their rental agreement for Georgia customers.
The wording of the agreement, however, specifies that this default rental insurance provides neither “primary coverage” nor “excess coverage.” In other words, Budget refuses to pay for damages caused by its customers unless there are absolutely no other options for coverage. If any other insurance policy exists that could be applied to the accident, even if its limit is too low to address all of the victim’s injuries, Budget considers itself off the hook and will refuse to help cover the difference.
Budget will also refuse coverage if the renter has broken any terms of the rental agreement, such as by:
- Allowing an unauthorized driver to operate the vehicle
- Overloading the vehicle
- Towing a load
- Offering commercial transportation services using the vehicle
- Driving under the influence
- Using the vehicle to commit any crime
- Failing to report any damage promptly to the company
So, under the terms Budget has written for itself, its default liability coverage only comes into play if a customer rents a car without having any personal auto insurance, causes an accident with it, and does nothing else wrong or in breach of the agreement.
Of course, Budget is an international company, and the enforceability of any contract depends on its compliance with local laws. It’s always worth checking in with a lawyer in your area, to see if Budget might bear more legal responsibility for your accident than it would like to acknowledge.
Budget Has Been Sued for Allegedly Selling Fake Supplemental Insurance
Budget Rental Car customers do have the option of purchasing supplemental liability insurance (SLI) from the company if they want to. An SLI policy provides excess coverage, meaning it picks up where other insurance policies leave off, if the damages from an accident exceed those other policies’ limits.
Accident victims, of course, have no control over whether the at-fault driver decided to add the optional SLI policy to their rental agreement. And even if the answer is yes, that might not be a guarantee that this additional insurance policy actually exists.
Budget Rental Car is part of a larger corporation called Avis Budget Group. In September of 2022, Avis Budget Group settled a class action lawsuit in Florida for $33.9 million. The suit alleged that Avis Rent-a-Car and Budget Car Rental brands had been selling nonexistent SLI policies that they claimed came from a third party, ACE American Insurance.
When confronted, Avis Budget Group admitted that it had never purchased the policies from ACE, as it had promised to do in its contracts with customers. The company argued that it was still providing the promised coverage through self-insurance, but it had no written terms for these policies and no authority to act as an insurer in Florida.
As of this posting, the page on Budget’s website devoted to optional SLI insurance still claims that these policies are provided by ACE American Insurance. What coverage is actually available when a customer purchases SLI from Budget and then hurts someone on the road remains to be seen.
Suing Budget Rental Car Isn’t Always the Best Route to Compensation
As difficult as it is to get your damages covered by Budget Rental Car, the good news is that you probably won’t need to.
Budget, like most car rental companies, requires customers to sign up for their rentals with a debit or credit card. If the driver who hit you paid with a credit card, especially a credit card marketed to frequent travelers, they may be carrying all the coverage you need without even realizing it.
Liability insurance for rental cars is a surprisingly common credit card perk. Best of all, credit card coverage is often primary coverage, meaning it can be used without needing to exhaust any other options first.
If the at-fault driver paid with a debit card, or didn’t have great travel insurance perks on their credit card, that’s okay too. The liability coverage on their personal auto insurance policy should still cover you, even though they weren’t driving their own car.
There’s always the danger that the at-fault driver might not have valid personal insurance, of course, but that brings us back to the possibility of suing Budget for that coverage they promise in their rental agreement, for when no other policy is available.
Finally, if absolutely all else fails, liability might fall to your own insurance company, under your uninsured driver coverage.
Your odds of being able to collect the settlement you need, from one source or another, are good. Still, amid all these possibilities for coverage, it’s important to stay aware that Budget Rental Car, the at-fault driver’s insurance company, your insurance company, and the at-fault driver’s credit card company (if applicable) are all for-profit corporations. Their top priorities will almost certainly be their own profit margins, not your well-being, not the law, and not the letter of their own policies.
Their legal and claims departments won’t be above exploiting any confusion between the multiple possible insurers for your accident. That’s why it’s so important to have a good lawyer in your corner, to make sure the parties involved don’t all pass the responsibility on to each other, leaving you without the compensation you need.
What to Do After an Accident Involving a Budget Rental Car
If you’ve been in an accident with a Budget Rental Car, you’ll need to act quickly to protect your health and your rights.
The number of urgent tasks that come up after an accident can be overwhelming, especially considering the physical and emotional toll of the accident itself, but ignoring them will lead to more stress and problems later on.
We recommend tackling the essentials in the order below. You can apply most of these steps to any accident, which is useful, because you may not find out that you’re dealing with a Budget Rental Car accident right away.
- Stop where you are, and call 911 to report the accident. This step is legally mandatory, and failure to follow it can open you up to charges of hit-and-run. It’s perfectly okay, and usually advisable, to move your car a short distance from where it ended up after the collision, for the purpose of clearing lanes of traffic. The important thing is to remain at the scene, and be careful not to aggravate serious injuries. If anyone appears to have a spinal injury, it’s best to leave them exactly where they are and divert traffic around them.
- Make your contact and insurance information available to anyone involved in the accident, and collect the same from the other driver. If you know that the at-fault driver was using a Budget Rental Car, you might want to ask about their credit card company as well. If not, your lawyer can check into this later.
- Keep conversation about how the accident happened to a minimum, and do not verbalize any judgements about fault.
- Follow instructions from any emergency responders, especially paramedics. Do not refuse medical care.
- Collect what evidence you can from the accident scene. Ideally, take pictures of the damage, skid marks, intersection, and potentially relevant details such as bald treads. Continue building your evidence collection as you go by writing down what you can remember of the moments leading to the accident, and keeping all documentation of your expenses.
- If you do not find yourself immediately under hospital care, schedule a full exam with your own doctor at your earliest convenience. Keep all follow-up appointments recommended by any healthcare professional.
- Once your immediate health needs are taken care of, look for a car accident lawyer in your area who has experience with incidents involving rental cars. In the meantime, refuse all communication with insurance companies, or with Budget Rental Car. Don’t wait too long; your lawyer will need to be able to submit your claims in a timely manner.
The expert attorneys at the Stoddard Firm have extensive experience in traffic law, insurance law, personal injury, and wrongful death. We know the Atlanta area and all the quirks of its roads and laws. We don’t fear complex cases, and we’re passionately committed to getting accident survivors the compensation they need, while holding large companies to their legal responsibilities.
To get started with a free, no-obligation consultation on your accident with a Budget Rental Car, reach out any time at 678-RESULTS, or through our online chat function.