You are about to be on the road trip of a lifetime, cruising along the highway with your friends, and can't wait to see America as it was meant to be experienced – on the open road. Even better, you have an amazing rental car, and you have placed all your favorite road trip songs on your playlist.
You queue up the playlist, high-five your friends, and start your engine. Little do you know that soon you'll be in a car accident with a pickup truck. Soon, all you'll be thinking is, “Did I decline a car insurance policy at the rental counter?" When you decline such coverage, you are taking on what is referred to as a collision damage waiver.
While you may be wondering a million different things, the most important question on your mind is probably who pays for a rental car after an accident? The question will turn on two separate inquires: who is at the at-fault driver and the level of rental car coverage from the driver's insurance company.
The answers to these questions will determine who pays for the cost of your rental as well as the expenses related to damage to that vehicle and any other expenses you may incur as a result of the accident. Examples of other expenses could be medical ones related to any injuries you might sustain as a result of the crash.
First Steps After the Accident
Having a car accident in a rental car isn't that much different than if it were your own car. Your first step after an accident is to make sure everyone is safe at the scene, swap contact information and insurance information with the other driver, and call 911 if necessary. Call your rental car company right away after an accident. Ask the company how to proceed, including whether or not you need to file a police report, even for minor damages to your rental vehicle.
Who Is At Fault for the Accident?
In deciding who pays for the rental car after an accident, the most important inquiry here is who caused the accident. If the other driver did, their auto insurance company is on the hook for rental car repair charges. The best case scenario is that the other driver is at fault for the accident, and they have insurance coverage. Under such circumstances, it's likely that the at-fault driver's insurance company will handle your costs under the terms of that driver's policy.
Almost every state requires drivers to carry a minimum type of liability coverage that will offset property damage to the other vehicle, which in this case would be your rental car. If the other driver was operating without insurance, that becomes a more difficult situation. You may have to pay out-of-pocket if your own insurance doesn't cover it. Examples of such out-of-pocket expenses could be any related to medical care you or the other passengers may need as a result of injuries and/or the costs the rental car company may incur when they fix the vehicle at a repair shop.
After you have handled the out-of-pocket expenses, you could then attempt to sue the other driver for compensation. However, if the other driver didn't have insurance in the first place, collecting from them might not be possible. If they don't have any assets, there may be nothing from them to recover.
If you are at fault, then you are responsible for the damages to the rental car and the other driver's vehicle. That's where your car insurance coverage will (hopefully) kick in, assuming you have the proper coverage.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
If the other party is at fault but uninsured, you will need to make a claim with your own insurance company under your uninsured motorist benefits. The good news is that the percentage of uninsured motorists declined nationally from 13.8 percent in 2009 to 12.6 percent in 2012, according to the Insurance Research Council.
What About Rental Car Insurance?
Rental car agents around the country ask drivers numerous times a day which variety of coverage they would like. While many people decline coverage, it may be worth revisiting if you aren't sure what your current policy covers or if it has significant exclusions such as long-term rentals or business use if it's rented under your company's name.
The types of insurance that rental car companies offer include collision coverage, liability insurance, personal accident insurance, and more. While this coverage may initially cost you out-of-pocket, it will likely help you in case your own insurance won't cover damage or if the other driver is uninsured. Be sure to review the text of any policy thoroughly, including any disclaimers that might be attached to it, to ensure that what you are opting into satisfies any specific needs you may have.
Still, your credit card company may provide you with some layer of rental car insurance protection, but each policy is different. You will need to check with your individual carrier to learn more. If you aren't sure what type of insurance coverage you have either through your own policy, a credit card company, or from the rental company itself, seek out the advice of an experienced lawyer.
If you're still confused, you might consider reviewing the following resources, as well:
Who Pays for a Rental Car After an Accident? Ask an Attorney
Being in an auto accident while in a rental car can create several unique problems regarding who should pay for what damages. While the law can be confusing, it doesn't have to be. If you have had an accident, your best first step is to speak with a personal injury attorney in your area today to learn who bears what responsibility for costs and damages. Such attorneys can assist as car accident lawyers. Not only can they help you with determining who bears what responsibility, but they can also help you with your insurance claims. It can be difficult to know exactly to what you are entitled under policy limits, and an attorney will be able to clarify that.