Who Is Liable in a Rental Car Crash?

Getting into an accident in a rental car can be any traveler’s worst nightmare.

Whether you purchased additional insurance from the rental car company or not, a rental car accident can be extremely costly and difficult to sort through. However, understanding your insurance coverage, the cause of the accident, and your level of liability can make the accident easier to deal with—both mentally and financially.

Renting a car brings with it the same responsibilities as driving your own personal car; in other words, you still must follow all the rules of the road and you are responsible for any traffic citations or parking tickets. Therefore, if you get into an accident, the normal rules of negligence apply. If you violated the rules of the road and an accident occurred as a result (e.g. by running a stop light or texting while driving), then from a legal standpoint, you will be liable for the accident. On the flip side, if another driver acts negligently and causes injuries to you or damages your rental car, he or she would be legally on the hook.

It is important to note that either way, whether the accident was your fault or someone else’s, the rental car company is probably not financially responsible for the damage unless you purchased collision coverage at the time of the rental. (Keep in mind that these collision coverage or Loss Damage Waiver contracts often have lots of fine print and loopholes that keep the rental car company from having to pay in certain situations.) Rather, your own car insurance policy most likely provides coverage for a rental car accident, just like it would for an accident involving your own car.

Also, even if you purchased collision coverage from the rental car company, you will have to file a personal injury claim for medical expenses or other costs of the accident, such as pain and suffering. The Loss Damage Waiver or collision coverage purchased will only cover the costs to repair the vehicle, rather than the total cost of the accident.

However, in very specific circumstances, the rental car company could be liable for your injuries or the damage to your rental car. If the accident was caused by a defective vehicle or poor vehicle maintenance, the rental car company will likely bear most of the liability for the accident. For example, say you are driving a rental car and the tires are extremely worn; if a tire blows out while you are driving, causing an accident, the rental car company would likely be liable for failing to maintain the tires properly.

Be sure to consult your own insurance policy and read through the fine print of the collision coverage offered by the rental car company before making any decisions; each rental car company and insurance company are different, and they may have different rules regarding liability for a rental car accident.