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What to Do When You Are Involved In a Car Accident With a Rental Car
One of the best things about renting a car is getting behind the wheel of something new. Whether you are renting for business or pleasure, driving a rental car can be like getting an extended test drive of something you would not normally get to try. But driving something different comes with a risk, namely that you are driving something different. While an accident in a rental car is likely the last thing you would want to think about when handed your new keys, it is nevertheless important to understand what steps to take if something should happen.
What to Do on Site of an Accident Involving a Rental Car?
When you are in an accident involving a rental car, it is important to first follow similar steps that you would in any other accident. The first step you should always take is to ensure that everyone in your vehicle is safe. Then, after thoroughly checking for any hazards or debris at the scene, locate the other vehicle(s) and do the same for them. It is always prudent to proceed with caution when engaging with other parties. Do not sign anything that the other party asks you to and be conscious of what you say to them. It is important not to say anything that may be used against you later such as “I should have been paying more attention” or even “I am sorry”. Doing so may lessen or even nullify any recovery you may receive from your insurance company or the rental car agency later.
Once the area is safe, exchange information with the other driver(s). You should obtain:
- Email Address
- Phone Number(s)
- Vehicle Registration
- License Plate Number
- Driver’s License Number
- Insurance Company and Policy Number
If asked, or if it otherwise seems prudent, you may let the other party know that you are in a rental vehicle and give them the name of the agency. Still, it is important to proceed with caution when doing this as you do not want the other party to try and take advantage of the situation. This could lead the rental agency to later try and shift some of the blame onto you to lessen their own liability to the other party. Inspect and document any damage to both vehicles, preferably with pictures.
Who to Call?
Pursuant to the requirements of N.J.S.A. 39:4-130, New Jersey drivers involved in an accident in excess of $500, must report it to the police. However, when involved in an accident involving a rental vehicle, you should always call the Police and obtain a police report. The rental car company will always ask for a copy of the police report to corroborate what happened, and to pursue the appropriate parties. Obtaining a police report is especially critical when the other party appears hostile or is unwilling to provide any of the information listed above. If you are feeling any type of pain due to the accident, you should inform the police officer at the scene. If you do not file a police report at the scene, you should do so at the nearest office in the county where the accident occurred, within ten days. A police report may play a large part in any litigation filed.
As soon as you are able, you should contact your rental car agency and inform them of what happened. Upon first renting the vehicle it is generally best to ask the agency about how to proceed if an accident should occur. The rental agreement will generally also have a number to contact in case of an accident. Furthermore, you may wish to contact the office that you rented from and let them know what happened, (take note that if you rented from a larger location, such as an airport, it may be difficult to reach a live representative this way). The rental agency will likely ask for the same information listed above for their own internal incident report. Coordinate the best way for the agency to receive the vehicle back as soon as possible, so that you do not incur additional rental charges. Check your rental agreement to see if the agency covers the cost of towage, if required.
Finally, you may wish to contact your own insurance company to let them know what happened. However, there are things to keep in mind before choosing to do so. While it is true that you can likely transfer collision and comprehensive coverage from your personal policy onto a rental car in your name, an accident in a rental car will likely increase your auto-insurance rates regardless of who was at fault in the accident. Furthermore, if you believe you have suffered an injury in the accident, it may be best to speak to a personal injury attorney first, before speaking to the insurance company.
What Happens if the Renter Did Not Have Insurance?
Most states, including New Jersey, require a minimum amount of comprehensive insurance coverage when driving. This minimum threshold will increase starting on January 1, 2023. However, most rental agencies are not required to check a renter’s personal insurance policy, nor is a renter required to purchase protection through them. This makes it possible that you will be hit by a vehicle that does not have the appropriate comprehensive coverage (or that you, yourself will rent a vehicle without the appropriate insurance).
However, under The No Fault Act, codified in N.J.S.A. 39:6A 1-35, New Jersey is a no-fault state. This means that your own personal PIP insurance will cover any medical injuries you suffer, regardless of which party was at fault or what the insurance situation of the other party is. Accordingly, it is crucial that you have PIP coverage in your policy. Other types of damages suffered, will be covered by the insurance coverage of the at-fault party.
If you purchased any coverage from the rental car agency, be sure to check the rental agreement to see to what extent you are covered. The personal injury and third-party liability coverages are generally supplemental to any protection you already have through your own insurance. Similarly, if you are hit by another party who purchased protection through a rental car company, you may be eligible for coverages that the other party purchased from the rental agency. Try to obtain a copy of the rental agreement if possible.
When Should You Hire a Personal Injury Attorney?
Dealing with any car accident can be a complex and overwhelming process. The additional parties and steps required when a rental agency is involved can make it doubly so. If you have been injured in an accident involving a rental vehicle, working with an experienced personal injury law firm that you can trust is the best way to recover the fair value for your harms and losses. Our New Jersey personal injury attorneys at Scura, Wigfield, Heyer, Stevens & Cammarota can help. Please call our office to schedule a free consultation to go over your options.
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