6 Problems Why You Had Better Hope Someone in a Rental Car Does Not Damage Your Property

I magine that you are sound asleep — only to be suddenly awakened by a loud crash at 4:00 in the morning. A car just hit the retaining wall on your property, causing damage to it before speeding away with the driver not wanting to stick around and face the consequences. You go outside to inspect the aftermath of what had just happened — and you are in luck: the front bumper of the vehicle and its license plate were left behind.

“Aha!” you think to yourself. “What better evidence than a license plate to find out who caused this damage?”

Not unlike the rogue vehicle in this incident, your good fortune comes to a screeching halt when it hits the retaining wall of not being able to assign blame and collect the necessary funds to repair the damage — simply because the vehicle involved in this incident was a rental car.

6 Problems Why You Had Better Hope Someone in a Rental Car Does Not Damage Your Property

According to this article written by Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times, Daniel Huang of San Jose did not have to imagine the aforementioned incident, as it actually happened to him — and he asked for advice as to what recourse he can take.

“Put your feet up and sip an adult beverage as you mull your not-so-hot options” was the gloomy introduction to the complex answer Hamm had for Huang, who was informed by the police that the license plate number belonged to a car owned by Hertz.

Problem 1: No Liability Insurance Supplement by the Renter

The claim submitted by Huang was denied by Hertz because the renter of the vehicle was liable for the incident and not Hertz — and the renter did not opt for the liability insurance supplement for the rental of the vehicle, which would have covered the damage inflicted upon the retaining wall.

“That’s not passing the buck; that’s part of federal law known as the Graves Amendment”, noted Hamm. “It says, in part, ‘An owner of a motor vehicle that rents or leases the vehicle to a person [or an affiliate of the owner] shall not be liable under the law of any state or political subdivision … for harm to persons or property that results or arises out of the use, operation, or possession of the vehicle during the period of the rental or lease….There is no negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the owner [or an affiliate of the owner].’”

Also known formally as United States Code Title 49, Subtitle VI, Part A, Chapter 301, Subchapter I, § 30106, the entire text of the Graves Amendment can be found here.

“In other words, Hertz didn’t slam the car into Huang’s retaining wall, so Hertz shouldn’t have to pay to fix it.” This means that this is a matter between the renter who assumed liability and the homeowner who experienced damages — therefore, Hertz is not a party to this incident and is not responsible.

Problem 2: Privacy Policy of Renters

With Hertz out of the picture — so to speak — the next logical step is to hold the renter of the car liable for damages…

…but Huang could not do that because Hertz refused to provide him with the name of the person who rented the vehicle, citing that its privacy policy prevents the rental car company from revealing the identity of the customer who is likely at fault for this incident.

Problem 3: Homeowner’s Insurance Policy

Huang wanted to place a claim pertaining to this incident with his homeowner’s insurance policy; but the estimated cost of the damage was less than the deductible on the policy of $2,500.00 — meaning that in order to repair the damage, Huang will most likely have to pay for it himself.

“Instead, the involved party should be the criminal who is now guilty of a hit-and-run”, according to Hamm. “Calling someone a criminal may sound harsh, but under California Vehicle Code 20002, if you damage someone’s property and you don’t stop or leave a note, that is a misdemeanor that ‘upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by a fine not exceeding $1,000, or by both that imprisonment and fine.”

No one was injured as a result of the incident; but if so, the crime would become a felony.

Regardless, the next logical step would be to involve law enforcement officers to track down the suspect…

…which is what Huang did: report this incident to the police and follow up with them on regular intervals for updates — and although documentation of this incident could be the starting point for an investigation, that does not guarantee that the police department will devote any priority to it, as the caseload of the police department can be one of many factors which could inhibit the investigation of a case this small from being completed in a prompt and timely manner.

“Don’t assume that the department won’t investigate it, but don’t count on it either”, according to Hamm. “If Huang follows up on his report and doesn’t find satisfaction with the detective assigned to the case, ask for a supervisor.”

Problem 5: Small Claims Court

The court of last resort — as Hamm puts it rather poetically — for Huang is to file a claim in small claims court, whose limit of award to a plaintiff or defendant is typically $5,000.00, depending on the jurisdiction…

…but how do you sue someone whose identity remains unknown to you?

“A Hertz spokesman said it would respond with information on the renter if it received a lawfully issued subpoena, which you can find on California’s small claims court website”, according to Hamm. “If Hertz is named in the suit, along with the person identified in Hertz communications, and a John/Jane Doe or two also is listed (because the renter may not have been the driver), you may get the information you need.”

Problem 6: Forget All About It and Just Pay For the Repairs Yourself

“Or you can forget all of this, call the contractor and prepare to write a check for your newly remodeled retaining wall, thanks to the irresponsible slug who drove into it.” I really like the way Catharine Hamm put that in words.

Summary

That the only option for Huang appears to be to simply forget about pursuing the perpetrator for procuring payment in recompense for repair of the retaining wall is unjust and unfair. Huang had absolutely nothing to do with this incident — other that daring to own a property which was apparently in the way of the wayward motorist…

…so suffice it to say that I believe Problem 6 is indeed a problem, in my opinion. In fact, I consider it outrageous that an innocent person is forced to be penalized for the actions — possibly negligent — of another person…

…or maybe there was something mechanically wrong with the car? Perhaps a third party caused the driver of the rental car to swerve and hit the retaining wall? These are two of many possible variations which could have caused a chain of events that led to the incident in question. We simply do not have enough evidence.

I believe that if a customer is potentially involved in an incident, the rental car company should conduct an investigation along with law enforcement; and if the customer is found guilty or liable, that customer should pay for the damage — especially if the customer used a credit card which includes payment to parties who suffered damages or has liability included in his or her primary automobile insurance policy…

…but then again, I am not a lawyer; so I appeal to you: what are your thoughts pertaining to the case of Daniel Huang — and is there any recourse available to him which has not been covered in this article? Do you believe that any part of the process involving the driver of a rental car and his or her liability in the event of an incident should be changed?

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

5 thoughts on “6 Problems Why You Had Better Hope Someone in a Rental Car Does Not Damage Your Property”

  1. Paul S says:

    A beautiful catch 22 crafted by slick lawyers to thwart justice in ‘justice for all’. Welcome to America, sucker. The modern age mantra is ‘no one is accountable for anything anymore.’ You’re on your own.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I wish I could argue with what you wrote, Paul S

  2. Rob T says:

    On the flipside: If you hit something with your rental, RUN – Hertz will cover for you . . .

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I actually thought of that, Rob T.

      I would never do that; but…

  3. Boraxo says:

    There is no law that requires Hertz to keep rental records private. Hertz simply chooses to do so and in so doing protects the identity of a criminal. Perhaps Hertz should be sued for aiding and abeting a criminal act? Interestingly if a Hertz car is used to violate speeding laws (e.g. by photo radar) Hertz will readily provide the renter’s identity to law enforcement or rather to the traffic court upon request (with no subpoena). So Hertz is not really concerned about privacy protection at all – typical hypocrites.

    Maybe time for Graves Act to be repealed.

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