When it comes to something like renting a car, people often gravitate toward large brand names, expecting a smooth experience. After all, renting out vehicles, especially for one-way drives, takes quite a bit of infrastructure.
People who have been injured by rental cars may also expect a recognizable brand name to be a good sign. It’s easy to understand why. One would think that a company with thousands of cars on the road would have a system in place for covering damages from accidents, which are bound to happen occasionally.
National Car Rental, one of the many brands owned by Enterprise, the largest vehicle rental company in the U.S., certainly has size on its side. Unfortunately, getting a fair settlement after a collision with an at-fault National driver isn’t as simple as it might sound.
Below, we’ll go into detail on why rental car accidents are so especially challenging to collect compensation for, and how a lawyer can help you get the settlement you need.
Rental Companies Are Not Liable for Damages on the Basis of Vehicle Ownership Alone
In most traffic accident scenarios, the owner of the at-fault vehicle (or rather, their insurance company) is responsible for the damages. It doesn’t matter whether the owner was driving the vehicle at the time, because insurance policies mainly apply to a specific vehicle rather than a specific person.
People injured by rental vehicles, especially rental vehicles with highly visible branding, often expect this principle to apply to their accidents. The rental company owns the at-fault vehicle, therefore, it must be responsible for the damages.
Under the Graves Amendment, however, that’s not the way it works. When it comes to rental vehicles, it’s the renter, not the owner, who is responsible for securing liability insurance.
Although National Car Rental isn’t legally responsible for an accident just because it owns the at-fault vehicle, it may still be responsible if it contributed to the accident through negligent business practices.
For example, if National Car Rental releases a vehicle to someone who’s obviously too drunk to drive, the company could potentially be held liable for knowingly creating an unsafe situation on the road. National has, in fact, been accused of doing exactly this, once in Mississippi in 2018, and once in New Jersey in 2015.
The Mississippi renter killed two people while driving the wrong way on the I-59, and the New Jersey renter crashed his vehicle almost immediately, before even leaving the airport where he obtained it. Both drivers died and were confirmed to be intoxicated well beyond the legal driving limit.
National could also be liable for accidents caused by faulty vehicles, or by the actions of its own employees.
National’s Insurance Division May Be Responsible If the Customer Purchased Extra Coverage
Like most rental car companies, National Car Rental sells optional insurance policies that renters can add on to their transactions. As part of Enterprise Holdings, Inc., it does this through the corporation’s in-house insurance brand, Rental Insurance Services.
One of the options is called Supplemental Liability Protection (SLP). National does not share the full terms of the policy on its website, but in general, if a driver with an SLP policy causes an accident, the SLP covers the excess cost of damages, after all other insurance policies have been exhausted.
So, if the driver who hit you purchased an SLP from National and has no other liability coverage, or their other coverage isn’t enough to cover your injuries, Enterprise Holdings might be legally obligated to cover you as an insurer, rather than as a negligent party.
Collecting compensation this way can be challenging, partly because SLP policies tend to be full of exclusions, and partly because it’s tricky to prove that no other insurance policies apply, or that they’ve already paid as much as the law requires them to.
If you believe that National Car Rental or its insurance department owes you coverage, it’s definitely in your best interests to discuss your case with a lawyer.
Rental Companies Will Resist Paying Fair Settlements, Especially If You’re Unrepresented
The main reason why it’s so difficult to get your claim settled fairly after an accident is as simple as it is frustrating.
For-profit companies exist, by definition, to make a profit. When part of a company’s business model involves processing claims from injured people, it will almost invariably develop a system for minimizing the amount it pays out on those claims. That system won’t necessarily align with the company’s actual legal obligations.
If National Car Rental believes that ignoring you, denying your claim, or making an absurdly low offer will make you go away, that’s probably what it will do.
This happens with insurance companies after other types of traffic accidents all the time, but the complexity of rental car accidents makes it especially easy for victims to get the run-around. In in a rental car accident, there are often several possible insurers, including the rental company. All of them will be financially motivated to argue that the accident is someone else’s responsibility, whether or not there’s any legal basis for that assertion.
Trying to take on this kind of case alone rarely turns out well, even when it seems simple. In 2015, a Minnesota woman spent what she describes as “hundreds of hours” fighting for National Car Rental to replace her son’s car, which had been totaled by a National renter with SLP coverage. At one point, her case was thrown out for being filed in the wrong jurisdiction. In the end, she was only able to negotiate the settlement up from about $1,300 to about $3,500. The original offer had barely covered the towing and storage bill.
In that case, the family probably lost a few thousand dollars compared with what full compensation would have looked like, but in cases where someone has been injured or killed, the difference could be hundreds of thousands.
Working with a lawyer can help in several ways:
- A lawyer can help you understand your rights, and tell the difference between a genuine complication in your case and a distraction technique by one of the companies involved.
- Having an expert on your case can help you avoid technical errors that have nothing to do with the fundamental legitimacy of your claim.
- Your lawyer will handle the paperwork and correspondence for you, so you have more freedom to focus on recovering from the incident in other ways.
- The mere act of hiring a lawyer sends a message that you won’t be easily confused or discouraged into dropping the matter. This alone can sometimes make a company more cooperative.
You May Have Other Coverage Options, Outside of National Car Rental
Another thing a lawyer can do is help you identify every possible source of coverage for your accident. There might be more than you realize, and National Car Rental may not be the best one in your particular case.
Many credit cards, especially those marketed to frequent travelers, offer liability coverage for car rentals as a perk. If the driver who injured you paid for the rental using one of these credit cards, the credit company may be responsible for covering the damages.
This is actually one of the best possible scenarios for a rental car accident survivor, because insurance from a credit card company usually has far fewer exclusions and conditions than insurance from a rental car company.
Even so, you may still need representation, because there’s no guarantee that a credit card company won’t try to dodge valid claims from an unrepresented survivor.
If there’s no credit card involved, no SLP from National, and no reason to believe that National caused your accident through negligence, the next possibility for your lawyer to investigate is the at-fault driver’s personal auto insurance. Although auto insurance primarily follows a vehicle rather than a driver, many policies do include short-term coverage for cars rented by the policyholder.
Finally, the last resort for coverage is your own insurance company. If the at-fault driver turns out to be completely uninsured in every way, you might be covered for that under your own policy.
Being able to work together with one lawyer who has experience with all of these different avenues of compensation can make a huge difference in avoiding missed opportunities and maximizing your ultimate settlement.
What to Do If You’ve Been Injured by a National Car Rental Driver
After any car accident, the first thing to do is move out of traffic, if possible, and stop.
- Call 911. This is legally required in Georgia for any accident involving injuries, no matter how minor, or property damage that appears to be worth at least $500. When speaking with the 911 operator, focus on what you need now, more than on what just happened. If there are obvious injuries, try to describe them. If there are any fires or hazardous material leaks, say so. This will affect what emergency vehicles respond.
- Give your insurance information to everyone else involved in the crash, and collect the same from the other driver. If the at-fault vehicle has a rental brand name on it, or the at-fault driver mentions that it is a rental, you may want to ask if the driver purchased supplemental insurance or has coverage through a credit card. Drivers with this credit card perk may or may not know it exists.
- If you feel well enough to do so, or have someone with you who can help you, take pictures of the crash site for your records.
- Accept emergency assistance and follow all medical advice. If you do not receive emergency medical care on site, schedule your own exam as soon as possible to check for internal injuries.
- Find a lawyer in your area who represents victims of rental car accidents. Before you complete this step, do not discuss the details of the accident with National Car Rental or any insurance provider. Hold on to any evidence or information you think might be relevant, and bring it to your lawyer’s attention.
The Stoddard Firm has extensive experience with rental car accidents. We’ll perform a full investigation to determine whether there was anything National could have done to protect you better. Then, we’ll work our way through the hierarchy of different insurance policies, identify the one (or more) companies responsible for covering your losses, and hold them to it.
We live and work in the Atlanta area, so we know the local traffic patterns and laws. We’re also experts on personal injury and wrongful death law in general, which means we can help you take a full accounting of the harm the accident caused you, so that your settlement properly reflects it.
Most importantly, we’re passionate about helping accident survivors get back on their feet. We won’t let you slip through the cracks just because your case is more complex than the average traffic wreck.
To discuss your case with a qualified rental car accident lawyer in the Atlanta area today, reach out through our online chat function, or at 678-RESULTS, to get started with a free consultation.