When A Lawsuit Is Possible
That's why so many families choose to file personal injury lawsuits, pursuing financial compensation from responsible parties. But who, in the case of a stolen rental car, is responsible for the crash? In most car accidents, finding the responsible party is simple, because it's the driver. After all, it was the driver who caused the crash in the first place. Maybe they were driving while intoxicated, or checking their phone at the time of the crash, or violating a speed limit. These are all examples of negligence, which can serve as the basis for a personal injury claim.
Who Is Responsible For A Stolen Rental Car?
Things become a little more complex, however, when a stolen rental car is involved in the crash. In some cases it may be possible to file suit against additional parties. These situations are often covered by a thicket of legal contracts, some of which contain specific liability clauses.
In most cases, the liability for a stolen rental car devolves on the renter. After signing for a car, renters become liable for whatever happens to the car, including theft. For example, according to the terms of their contract, renters are required to secure the vehicle's key and lock it up after parking. When the car is stolen, the renter becomes liable for the car, especially if they failed to adequately secure the vehicle.
Answering A Complicated Question
Most car rental companies, including Hertz, Alamo and National, sell insurance policies that cover theft. When injuries are sustained due to the vehicle's theft, this insurance policy may kick in, offering compensation to anyone who is injured. If the renter failed to purchase a liability policy, or failed to adequately secure the vehicle's key, the insurance policy probably won't cover the damages.
Another option, when the renter's insurance policy is unable to cover the claim, is to pursue compensation through the renter's personal car insurance policy. These policies often "fill in the gaps," picking up the slack when the insurance policy purchased through the car rental company is insufficient, or unable, to cover the claim.
In the event that the renter does not have a personal insurance policy for vehicle damages, the renter him or herself would become directly liable for the car's theft. In these cases, it may be possible to file suit against the renter.
Cars Stolen From Rental Car Company Lots
But as in every lawsuit, the assignment of liability will depend on the specific facts of the case.
In one recent lawsuit, Hertz was accused of failing to properly secure vehicles in an overnight lot. In this case, there's no renter to enter into the equation. A car was stolen directly from Hertz, right out of their overnight lot. In fact, it was later determined that a Hertz employee had orchestrated the theft, working with a friend to abscond with the vehicle when no one was watching. The car was stolen and subsequently involved in a serious accident, leading to personal injuries to an unsuspecting driver.
In this case, liability for the accident could be assigned to Hertz, because companies can generally be held accountable for the actions of their employees. Attorneys argued that Hertz should be found liable for the accident through a theory of negligence, namely because the company failed to adequately secure the vehicle against theft.
The legal principles illustrated by this lawsuit would surely hold for other rental car companies, including National, Alamo and Enterprise. When held in an overnight lot, rental cars must be adequately secured against thieves. In the event of a theft, the car rental company may be liable for the vehicle after it is stolen.
Defective Vehicle Security
Another theory of liability, demonstrated by a case currently being prosecuted by our own experienced personal injury lawyers, involves the car itself.
Our client was severely injured after being hit by a stolen rental car. In most cases, liability for the accident would devolve upon the renter, because the car had been rented prior to the crash, with a contract assigning liability to the renter. But as it happens, there was a problem with the car.
Product Liability Claims
As asserted in the lawsuit, the vehicle's auto-locking feature failed to work as intended. Believing that the auto-locking feature would work, the renter attempted to lock the car. Instead of locking, the car remained open, leaving it vulnerable to theft. The car was eventually stolen and involved in a car accident, leading to our client's injuries.
We believe that the car's manufacturer should be held accountable for the accident, because the auto-locking feature failed to work properly when it was called upon. Without this apparent defect, the car would never have been stolen in the first place, and our client would never have sustained their injuries. In essence, the case has become a matter of product liability, because vehicle manufacturers are required to manufacture cars that adequately guard against theft.