Rental Car Safety and Liability Questions

In 2014, there were a record 60 million automobiles recalled in the U.S., ranging from reported exploding air bags to faulty ignition switches to seat belt failures.
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Consumers are taking the recalls seriously, and many have been flocking to dealerships in droves to have their faulty parts repaired or replaced.

What’s unclear is how frequently commercial vehicle fleets are being repaired in compliance with this flood of recalls. Specifically: Rental car companies.

A recent report by USA Today indicates there is a huge whole in the consumer safety net, which was exposed following a 2004 crash that claimed the lives of two sisters.

While auto manufacturers are liable for defective or dangerous vehicles and/or vehicle parts, there is currently no law that holds rental car companies accountable for failure to ensure their vehicles are updated whenever a recall is announced.

In the case of Jacqueline and Raechel Houck, two sisters in their 20s were killed when the vehicle they were renting caught fire, caused by a malfunction of the power steering fluid. The auto manufacturer had issued a recall on the vehicle for this very problem. However, the rental car company continued to rent out the car without making any repairs. In fact, the sisters were the fourth people to rent that car after the announcement of the recall.

Later at trial, an employee of the rental car company conceded there was no company-wide policy mandating recalled vehicles needed to be pulled from the fleet. Ultimately, the civil litigation resulted in a $15 million settlement for the girls’ family.

But our Charlotte accident lawyers know their deaths were preventable.

Legislation was introduced in 2013 and again last year that would have closed the loophole. The Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2013, introduced by Sent. Charles Schumer (D-NY), proposed an amendment to Chapter 301 of title 49 U.S. Code. It would have prohibited the rental of motor vehicles containing a defect related to motor safety. Unfortunately, although the measure had bipartisan support, it died before it had a chance to be debated by the full Senate.

It’s worth noting most rental car companies did offer their support in favor of the bill. The opposition to the law was generated primarily from auto dealers and manufacturers.

Of course, this issue is nothing new. In 2011, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report detailing the fact rental car firms lack uniformity or clear guidance on how to handle recalled vehicles. Because there is no federal law barring them from doing otherwise, rental car companies can continue to rent vehicles that have been recalled.

Meanwhile, distributors that sell other recalled items – from baby clothes to blenders – are committing a crime.

Rental car companies vary greatly with regard to their policies on recalled vehicles. Some pledge not to rent or sell recalled vehicles. Others say they won’t charge renters if their vehicle is recalled during the rental period. Others don’t contain any information at all.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends consumers be proactive about the issue. Before taking the vehicle out, check the latest recall notices to see whether one has been issued for that model.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
How safe is your rental car? July 29, 2014, By Bill McGee, USA Today

More Blog Entries:
Guarino v. Allstate Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. – Underinsured Motorist Benefits Dispute, Jan. 26, 2015, Charlotte Car Accident Attorney Blog

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