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$15M Award in Rental Car Death Lawsuit

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on

A jury in Alameda County, California, has awarded a verdict of $15 million dollars in a wrongful death suit against Enterprise Rent a Car. The plaintiffs were the parents of sisters Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, who were killed when their car crossed the Highway 101 median, hit a truck and burst into flames in 2004. Their parents claimed the negligence of Enterprise, who rented a recalled car to their children, was the cause of the crash and death of the two women.

After fighting the claims for five years, in May Enterprise admitted its negligence according to a report on The two young women were returning home to Santa Cruz, Ca. in the rented car when, according to experts hired by the plaintiffs, Raechel lost control of the steering and crashed. The experts concluded that the loss of control was due to a leak in the power steering fluid. According to the report, a month before the PT Cruiser the sisters were driving was rented to them, Daimler Chrysler released safety recall notices for 435,000 PT Cruisers from 2002 through 2005. The recall was initiated because the power steering hose could leak, resulting in a fire.

According to a sworn statement by Mark Matias, manager of Enterprise's Northern California area, it was regular company procedure to go ahead and rent a recalled car, even before the repair work had been done. Matais said the known company policy was this, "you've got to keep booking, because you don't know when you are going to get a car back. But then of course, you run short on vehicles, and if all you have are recalled vehicles on the lot, you rent them out. It was a given. The whole company did it."

Matais concluded, "If a priority recall appears on the computer screen in the rental office, the employee is required to write the word 'recall' on a Post-it note and place it on the key in an area designated for non-rentals, but nothing prevents an employee from renting that vehicle."

The nation' largest car rental company signed a document in May stating "their negligence was the sole proximate cause of the fatal injuries."

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