Who Compensates Me If I Am In An Accident With A Rental Car Owned By Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty Or Budget?
The rules concerning responsibility for a Maryland motor vehicle accident are fairly straightforward. The person who negligently drives a car is going to be responsible for his or her conduct -and any resulting injuries or damages. This can be complicated to some extent by contributory negligence principles, but, I would say that generally, it is the conduct, or fault, of one driver that leads to an accident.
Under substantive Maryland law, the owner of a vehicle is presumptively responsible for the conduct of the operator or driver.
The law, in essence, assumes that the owner has the responsibility and ability to conform the conduct of the driver to the requirements of the law. This is one of the easiest presumptions to dispel, and typically requires no more than the owner simply stating: “I wasn't in the car but I gave the other person permission to drive”. The owner of a vehicle may be alternatively be held responsible for the negligence of the driver under a different legal theory called negligent entrustment. Here, if there is a demonstration that the driver had dangerous tendencies or proclivities of which the owner was aware [e.g. multiple DUI arrests, or a long history of motor vehicle accidents] and that owner let that dangerous person that drive their car anyway, they may in fact be responsible for that dangerous driver's negligence, and resulting damages. They will have been considered to have committed an independent act of negligence, in allowing the person with dangerous habits to drive a vehicle capable of harming others.
You have potentially heard the old adage that, in most instances, "insurance follows the vehicle." If an insured driver is operating their own vehicle, there is coverage for any loss. The same principle would apply when an insured owner lets another person use their vehicle- a concept called permissive use. Here again, there is coverage if an accident ensues. If you are involved in a car accident with a rented vehicle [e.g. Hertz, Enterprise,, Avis, Budget, Dollar and the like] a different set of rules will apply. Anyone who has engaged in the renting of a vehicle for hire is likely aware that the customer is typically presented with an option. They have the option to purchase the insurance that is offered by the rental company, or provide proof that they have private motor vehicle insurance that would provide coverage in the event of a loss.
Note that it's always wise to confirm with your insurance agent or company if in fact your insurance would cover you in a rental car. While many if not most policies will cover rentals in the continental US, many do not cover international rentals, or vehicles driven from the US to Mexico or Canada.
The important distinction here is that the renting entity or the lessor of the vehicle is not presumptively responsible for the conduct of the driver.
This is true, despite state law to the contrary, by virtue of federal legislation. A concept called "preemption" dictates that federal law trumps any state law to the contrary. So, even though Maryland law might dictate that an owner of a vehicle is presumptively responsible for the conduct- or negligence- of the driver, any federal law to the contrary wins out. Under these federal provisions, the renting entity is specifically not responsible for the conduct or negligence of the driver, and in the event of an accident, the injured party must look to the driver’s private insurance or insurance than that person purchased from renting agency at the time of the rental. If that person does not have private motor vehicle insurance, or other applicable insurance, one must look to that individuals personal assets to satisfy any judgment.
-This Article was updated by Eric Kirk on 9/17/21.