It can be stressful enough to get into a car accident, but what happens when one of the drivers was behind the wheel of a rental car?

This can raise a lot of questions. Who is liable for the damages? What steps should you take immediately after the accident? And how can you navigate the insurance claims process?

We’ll take you through the must-dos and should-dos if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, including how to understand your coverage options and avoid common pitfalls that could complicate your experience.

Got a question about a specific situation? The St. Louis car crash attorneys at Niemeyer, Grebel and Kruse are here for you. Give us a call at 341-241-1919 to schedule a free case review with our team.

What to Do Immediately After A Rental Car Accident

Your first priority after a car accident should be to ensure everyone involved is safe or, if injured, receiving necessary medical attention. Next, you should turn your attention to securing the accident scene to prevent further accidents.

Checking for Injuries and Securing the Scene

After a rental car crash, it’s crucial to take stock of the situation. Check yourself and all other parties involved for any injuries that need immediate attention.

Remember, it’s also possible that some injuries may not be immediately apparent due to the shock of the accident. Pay close attention to how they are feeling in the following hours and days, and don’t hesitate to visit a doctor if you feel like something might be wrong.

Following the initial health check, the next step is to secure the accident scene. This helps prevent further accidents, protects everyone present and keeps traffic flowing. If possible, move the cars involved in the crash out of the roadway.

Contact Authorities and Create a Police Report

Your local police department will file an official accident report, which is instrumental in documenting the incident. This report serves as an objective record of the accident, including key details like the time, location and parties involved.

The police report is not just a bureaucratic formality. It contains valuable evidence, such as eyewitness statements, photographs and video surveillance. This can support negligence claims following a rental car accident. The report can be a deciding factor in determining fault, so make sure to contact the authorities promptly after the accident.

Next, Inform Your Rental Car Agency

Once you’ve ensured everyone’s safety and contacted the authorities, the next step is informing the rental car agency about the accident. This is a crucial step as it allows the agency to offer guidance on their specific procedures following an accident, which could include arranging for a replacement vehicle or handling insurance claims.

Look for their emergency numbers, which can often be found in the glove box or rental agreement. Remember to also complete their incident report as this will provide them with all the necessary details about the accident.

Understanding Your Rental Agreement and Insurance Coverage

With the most urgent details out of the way, let’s take a look at how things shake out between the rental car company and your insurance.

Your personal auto insurance policy might cover you when driving a rental car, but depending on your specific coverage, you might not be covered in all situations or levels of damage. Rental car agencies offer various types of insurance, such as collision damage waivers, liability insurance and personal accident insurance, which can cover different aspects of an accident — from injuries and damages to personal belongings.

It Starts With Your Personal Auto Insurance

Personal car insurance policies that include collision and comprehensive coverage typically extend to rental vehicles when used for personal use. This means that your own insurance could cover damages to the rental car or medical bills after an accident.

However, it’s important to verify the specifics of your personal auto insurance before your rent a car. If your policy doesn’t offer adequate coverage for rental cars, then you should consider purchasing additional insurance from the rental agency.

Understanding Rental Car Insurance

If your personal car insurance policy doesn’t cover rental situations, it might be a good idea to purchase coverage through your rental agency (though, keep in mind, this can come at a premium.)

One of the most popular options is the collision damage waiver (CDW), also known as a loss damage waiver (LDW). By purchasing this waiver, renters can cover repair or replacement costs if the rental car suffers damage or is destroyed in an accident, theft, or vandalism.

However, a CDW or LDW represents just one layer of potential protection. Renters can also consider additional insurance options to ensure comprehensive coverage:

  • Liability Coverage – This insurance protects you if you are held legally responsible for injuring someone or damaging another vehicle or property while driving the rental car. It does not cover damage to the rental vehicle itself.
  • Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) – PAI covers medical costs for the driver and passengers of the rental car in the event of an accident. This can include compensation for death and dismemberment as well as coverage for ambulance fees and medical expenses.
  • Personal Effects Coverage (PEC) – PEC provides protection for the personal belongings carried inside the rental vehicle. If items are stolen from the car or damaged while in the car, this coverage can reimburse you for the loss up to a certain limit.

Each of these insurance types offers a different level of protection, and their costs can vary depending on the rental company and the location of the rental. It’s essential for renters to thoroughly understand what each coverage option includes and excludes, assess their own risk, and decide what insurance they need to ensure a worry-free rental experience.

Credit Card and Third-Party Policies

Beyond your personal auto insurance and the rental agency’s coverage, there are supplementary insurance options available. Credit card rental car insurance, for instance, can serve as primary or secondary coverage. To activate this coverage, you must charge the full rental amount to the card, ensure the rental is in your name and decline the rental company’s collision damage waiver.

Third-party companies also offer standalone rental car insurance policies. These provide an alternative to credit card insurance and may be a preferable option for some renters. However, it’s important to note that credit card rental car coverage often excludes certain types of vehicles, long-term rentals, and rentals in foreign countries.

What Are the Financial Implications of Damaging a Rental Vehicle?

When you rent a car, any damages can bring significant financial implications. Understanding who pays for what and the potential additional charges can help you prepare and possibly avoid hefty fees.

Who Pays for What?

In Missouri, the responsibility for damages to a rental car typically depends on the rental agreement and the insurance policies in place. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Collision Damage Waiver (CDW)/Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) – If you opted for the CDW or LDW when you rented the car, you might not be responsible for damage costs, depending on the terms of the waiver. These waivers often exclude coverage for damages resulting from reckless driving or driving under the influence.
  • Your Auto Insurance – Your personal auto insurance policy may cover rental cars. This is often the case with comprehensive and collision coverage, but you should verify this with your insurance provider. Be aware that any claims may affect your personal insurance premiums.
  • Credit Card Insurance – Many credit cards offer rental car insurance as a benefit. This typically covers damage to or theft of the rental car, but you must decline the rental company’s CDW/LDW and pay for the rental with your card.
  • Rental Company – If you decline all additional coverage, you could be fully responsible for any repair or replacement costs if the vehicle is damaged or stolen.

Additional Charges You Might Encounter

Besides the costs of repairing or replacing a rental vehicle, there are additional charges that you might face:

  • Loss of Use – Rental companies in Missouri can charge you for the revenue they lose while a damaged car is being repaired. This charge is based on the daily rental rate and the number of days the car is out of service.
  • Diminished Value – This fee compensates the rental company for the reduction in the vehicle’s resale value due to the damages it sustained. Calculating diminished value can be complex and often requires an assessment by a professional.
  • Administrative Fees – These are fees the rental company can charge to cover the administrative costs associated with processing the accident claim.
  • Towing and Storage – If the rental vehicle needs to be towed and stored following an accident, you might be responsible for these charges as well.

Legal Considerations and Seeking Compensation

Missouri is an “at-fault” state. This means that the driver who caused the accident is responsible for paying for the other driver’s car repairs and medical bills.

Missouri uses a system of comparative fault, which means that fault can be assigned to both drivers, depending on their actions leading up to the crash. For example, if one driver was determined to be 70% at fault for an accident that produced $10,000 in damages, they will only be responsible for $7,000 of it.

As we see, things can get complicated quickly when dealing with rental agencies and insurance companies. This is when it can be very beneficial to speak with a skilled personal injury attorney.

When to Consult with an Attorney

There’s often no need to work with an attorney in the case of “fender benders” and straightforward collisions that don’t result in injuries. However, as we mentioned above, there are some scenarios where seeking legal advice is a great idea:

  • Complex Fault Issues – If the assignment of fault is complicated or disputed, an attorney can help navigate the complexities of comparative fault laws in Missouri.
  • Severe Injuries – If you or a passenger sustains serious injuries, a lawyer can help ensure that you receive full compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
  • Non-Cooperative Insurance Companies – Sometimes, insurance providers may deny a claim or offer a settlement that does not adequately cover your losses. An attorney can negotiate on your behalf to secure a fair resolution.
  • Multiple Parties Involved – Accidents involving multiple vehicles or parties can significantly complicate liability and insurance claims. Legal expertise is crucial in untangling these cases.

A skilled attorney can provide crucial guidance and representation, ensuring that your rights are protected while navigating the legal and procedural hurdles.

Steps for Dealing with Other Drivers and Insurance Companies

Dealing with other drivers and insurance companies after a rental car accident can feel intimidating, but it’s possible if you follow a few key steps.

Exchange of Information and Avoiding Admission of Fault

After a rental car accident, it’s important to:

  1. Exchange personal details like name, address, phone number and insurance information with other involved parties.
  2. When exchanging information, it’s crucial to avoid making statements that imply your responsibility for the incident.
  3. Any admission of guilt can jeopardize your chances of receiving compensation.

Recording all interactions with the insurance company in writing can provide evidence for future reference. Additionally, make sure to record all details of the collision, such as the year, make, model, and color of involved cars, the exact location, and the events related to how the accident happened.

Navigating Insurance Claims with the At-Fault Driver’s Insurance Company

Navigating insurance claims with the at-fault driver’s insurance company can be a complex process. Involving a car accident lawyer can pressure the insurance company to expedite the process and ensure you are not taken advantage of.

If costs are incurred with the rental company before the case is settled, you should seek reimbursement from the at-fault driver’s auto insurance company. This can help you avoid unnecessary out-of-pocket expenses during this stressful time.

Preparing for Future Rental Car Trips

While nobody plans to have a rental car accident, being prepared can help you navigate the situation more effectively. Before renting a car, be sure to make a list of important phone numbers, including your insurance company’s claims number, the rental agency’s claims number and your credit card company’s customer service number. This will help you be prepared in case of any issues during the rental. This way, you’ll have all the contact information you need in one place.

Also, before driving a rental car in unfamiliar areas, especially during times of low visibility, ensure the vehicle is well-maintained and familiarize yourself with its features. Planning your route with reliable navigation, sticking to major roads with adequate lighting, and communicating your travel plans with a trusted individual can contribute to a safer rental car driving experience.

Selecting the Right Insurance Before You Rent

Choosing the right insurance before you rent a car can save you a lot of trouble down the line. Confirm with your personal auto insurance provider if your policy extends coverage to rental cars before using a rental vehicle. If it doesn’t, or if additional coverage is recommended, be sure to purchase a Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) at checkout.

Remember, extra insurance may not be needed if you have primary car insurance that covers rental vehicles. However, if you’re unsure, it’s always advisable to err on the side of caution and secure the necessary coverage.

Get Experienced and Aggressive Legal Help

Don’t navigate the complexities of rental car agencies, insurance claims and legal proceedings alone. Niemeyer, Grebel & Kruse are here to help.

Our experienced attorneys specialize in personal injury and car crash claims, and we will fight to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation – 314-241-1919.

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