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Rental Car Insurance and Accidents in California

Everyone hears the rental car companies attempt to sell their rental car insurance at the rental car counter. If you have full coverage on your own car with a major insurer, you probably don’t need to buy anything more for a rental.  The last thing anyone expects on their vacation or business trip is to be involved in a car accident. However, if you are involved in any kind of accident in a rental car, here are the steps you can take to ensure that your health, safety, and legal rights are protected. 

Available Rental Car Insurance

You may have purchased the additional rental car insurance from the rental company at the time you rented the car from them. If this is the case, you should closely inspect the details of that additional car insurance. Depending on the type of insurance you purchased, you may owe absolutely nothing with respect to your accident for your rental car damage. If you made the decision to purchase insurance coverage for your rental car, you likely chose from one of these four options:

  • Loss-damage waiver “LDW.” All financial responsibility for damage to the rented car is removed from the renter if the car is damaged in an accident.  No liability coverage as to other parties is included here.  
  • Liability coverage ”LIS.” This coverage typically offers $1 million in liability coverage with the rental car, and includes uninsured motorist coverage, but the amount can vary, so you should ascertain the limits before you make this relatively expensive purchase.  This may duplicate coverage you already have on your own car insurance policy. This is another reason that you should always know the limits and coverages in your own policy. 
  • Personal accident insurance. “PAI” This insurance covers medical costs following an accident.  This could duplicate the “medical payments” coverage on your own car policy, buy many people have no “med pay,” and/or aren’t even aware of this type of coverage.
  • Personal effects coverage. This insurance covers any personal property damage of an individual inside of a rental car due to an accident.  Of course, you should never leave things of value in rental cars, which are major targets for thieves.

Personal Car Insurance and Credit Cards

rental car keysIn many cases, a person’s own personal car insurance policy will cover accidents involving a rental car. There are some exceptions involving those rentals for business reasons. It is always best to contact your insurance company to determine if your car insurance will cover rental car accidents.

Additionally, many credit card companies offer protection when used to purchase rental cars. These are obviously very specific to every credit card company, so you should contact the number on the back of the credit card you used to rent your car to see if you have any additional insurance coverage through the credit card. If you want to rely on credit card coverage, ask for the pamphlet they will send you which sets forth the scope and terms of the coverage.

Steps to Take After a Rental Car Accident

Many of the steps following an accident involving a rental car are very similar to those involved when you are in your own personal car. Following these steps can help you when you are involved in an accident in a rental car away from home.

  • Contact the Police. Contacting the police should be your very first step following an accident in any car, including a rental car. If you cannot get the car well away from anyplace where it might be hit, you don’t want to stay in the car unless you have to due to injuries or other safety reasons. Answer police questions, but avoid volunteering too much information or trying to convince them about liability, responsibility, and fault.
  • Have a Medical Evaluation. It is possible that an ambulance arrived at the scene of the accident. If it did, take advantage of having a medical professional evaluate and assess your injuries. Even if you feel your injuries are minor, it is important to receive a medical evaluation, as many injuries may be unnoticed by an accident victim immediately following the accident due to shock and adrenaline. Some injuries do not appear until days later. Even if you feel relatively fine after the accident, you may still seek a medical evaluation within a day or two of the accident to ensure that you do not have serious injuries such as whiplash, a traumatic brain injury or any internal injuries that could be serious or life-threatening.
  • Collect Documentation. Make sure to obtain the names and contact information of all other drivers and witnesses, if possible. A great way to do this is with photos of the person’s license and license plate. Additionally, if you can do so, take photographs of the entire accident from different angles. If there is any damage to any vehicle take close pictures to ensure accuracy. If there are any debris or hazards in the roadway or bad weather, take pictures to include as part of your case. Always keep all your medical bills, diagnostic testing, prescription information, loss of wages, and documentation from the scene of the accident in one place so that it is easily accessible.
  • Contact the Rental Car Company. This is a different step than if you were in your own personal vehicle. You will want to contact the rental car company and let them know that you were in an accident involving one of their rental cars. If it is drivable, the rental car company will let you know where to bring the car or may even bring you a new car to the scene of the accident. If the car is not drivable, they will let you know where it should be towed. Always make sure to note the time and the name of the customer service representative at the rental car company for your records. You will likely need to file an accident report with the rental car company. For example, Avis has a report like this that all drivers must fill out following an accident in one of their rental cars.
  • Contact Your Insurance Company. Contact your insurance company and let them know that you were involved in an accident. Do not assume any fault or blame regarding the accident, and do not say anything such as “I feel fine” or “I feel terrible, this was all my fault.” Anything you say can be used by the insurance company to validate a lower settlement offer. Simply give them the basic information they need regarding the accident. Never allow yourself to be recorded, and never sign an authorization allowing an insurance company to have full access to your entire medical history.

Contact a Car Accident Attorney

If you were involved in a car accident in a rental car and suffered any injuries, you will still need an experienced car accident attorney to help you build a strong personal injury and negotiate on your behalf with insurance companies and with your rental car company. Contact our legal team at Callaway & Wolf today at 415-541-0300 to schedule a free personal consultation with an attorney regarding your car accident in our San Francisco or Oakland office.


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