When considering how they should move to a new home or city, people oftentimes lack a vehicle that will be able to safely move their larger items to the new residence. For these people, there are truck rental services (like U-Haul, Penske, and Ryder) that lease moving vans and trucks for a fee. Unfortunately, this means that many individuals are able to step behind the wheels of these vehicles with very little formal training.
These issues are only enhanced by the fact that these rented vehicles are often loaded down with heavy items that might shift in the middle of travel due to improper loading. Worse, these vehicles may not be properly maintained or the rental company may not have the proper licenses or insurance for the work they do. All of this puts drivers who share the road with rental truck customers at greater risk of harm.
Thankfully, there are legal options available to victims involved in accidents with these vehicles. Whether it’s optional insurance coverage purchased by the person who rented the vehicle, or a lawsuit against a negligent company, there are many ways to be compensated for your injuries as the result of a rental truck accident.
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What Makes Moving Vans and Rental Trucks Dangerous?
Most people are not used to driving a vehicle the size of a moving van or truck, but they are able to drive them with just a regular Class D license in New Jersey. To be a skilled driver of these vehicles, a person would need regular practice driving them, yet few people who rent them have the means or desire to regularly access them for practice, especially if they plan to use them only one time.
Moving vans and trucks are particularly susceptible to problems with overloading and improperly loading the cargo to be delivered. Without professional movers, renters are expected to understand how to properly load, organize, and secure their belongings in the back of the van to ensure that they will not fall out of the vehicle or shift back and forth during transit.
Falling cargo puts other drivers in danger, and it is easy to become a victim of that debris on roadways. Shifting cargo, on the other hand, causes the weight of the vehicle to become uneven, undermining the control that even an experienced moving van operator might have over their vehicle. It may even lead to overturns and rollovers, as the driver makes a turn that, due to the shifting weight of their cargo, causes the moving van to tip over on its side and possibly even roll further.
Additionally, moving vans and trucks, while nowhere near the size of semi-trucks and similar cargo freighters, do suffer from the fact that their greater size and cargo brings greater weight to the motions they perform. If a moving van or truck were to collide with a smaller vehicle, it is likely that the smaller vehicle would have a significant disadvantage and be pushed along by the larger vehicle. This can be incredibly dangerous to the drivers and passengers of smaller vehicles if rental truck drivers fail to maintain a safe distance from others.
As reported by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), even the safest rental company, Penske, had 2.2% of its vehicles fail roadside inspections that resulted in the vehicle being put out of service. Hertz had a failure rate of 14.1%, and on average, five of the largest renters including Penske and Hertz experienced a failure rate of 6.4%.
Such failures, when not caught, can result in incredibly dangerous accidents for the renter and other drivers. Unfortunately, many renters are simply not educated in how to perform these inspections themselves and aren’t expected to perform them, meaning they have little reason to doubt a company which claims that the rented vehicle is safe.
What Insurance Might Cover My Accident?
Typically, there will be three forms of coverage that might pay for your medical expenses as the result of an accident with a rented moving van or truck. First off, if you have a registered vehicle in the state of New Jersey, then that vehicle will have a personal auto policy covering it. Second, if you have a health insurance policy, it will provide coverage for your injuries as a result of an accident. However, you will need to consider if it or your auto insurance policy is the primary payer for your injuries. Third, when you sign a lease with a rental company, you are typically offered additional coverage in the form of Personal Accident Insurance by the company.
It may seem strange to think that a personal auto policy will cover an accident caused by another vehicle. However, New Jersey’s no-fault laws require that personal auto policies come with personal injury protection (PIP) benefits. These benefits are paid out regardless of fault in a car accident and cover medical expenses, lost wages, and essential service expenses for the insured and their dependents injured in an accident with a rental truck.
These car accidents do not have to be with the specific vehicle insured. New Jersey statute NJ Rev Stat § 39:6A-4 requires that PIP benefits apply in any accident involving the use of a vehicle in which the insured victim was injured, even if it was not their vehicle that was involved.
A health insurance policy will typically also provide you with coverage for your expenses in the event of an accident with a rental truck. However, you will need to check your auto insurance policy to see if you selected your health insurance to be the primary payer for your expenses. Depending on which policy is the primary payer, the secondary policy will cover excess costs that the primary payer was unable to cover due to coverage limits.
Finally, a rental company will typically offer a selection of optional additional insurance coverage created by the company itself when a person leases a vehicle from them. One of these will be personal accident insurance coverage, which acts as an additional amount of coverage for medical expenses in the event of an accident.
Renters are by no means required to purchase this additional coverage or any of the other options offered by the company. A company’s employees will often offer these coverage options with questions such as, “Would you like the standard or full option for insurance coverage?” Such questions imply an assumption that renters must purchase one of the two options, but that is not the case at all.
What If I Decide to Sue?
If it becomes obvious that you cannot use your insurance policies to cover all of your expenses, it may become necessary to pursue a lawsuit against liable parties in your case. This is also the case if you suffer significant non-economic loss, such as pain and suffering, as the result of a serious injury. PIP benefits will not cover such losses. In short, there may be expenses from your accident that your insurance cannot, and will not cover.
Typically, auto policies in New Jersey do not allow you to sue unless you meet the lawsuit threshold of your policy, which requires suffering one of a set list of injuries. However, when you purchased your auto policy, you had the option of purchasing a policy with a “no limitation on lawsuit” provision for a higher premium. If you did so, then you will not have to worry about the lawsuit threshold of your policy.
If you are capable of suing and decide it is worthwhile, it is important that you contact an experienced personal injury attorney, who will collect documentation about your accident and prepare your case before beginning proceedings against the parties responsible for your injuries. This initial contact is invaluable, as it prepares you and the attorney for a working relationship that may last months or years as they represent you during the legal process of negotiations, settlement, and litigation. Even if you are not certain that you are going to sue another party, most lawyers will provide free consultations to determine liability and what insurance to pursue for coverage of all expenses.
Who Is Responsible for Rental Truck Accidents?
When considering if you should sue or not, you will need to determine who might have been responsible for your accident. However, rental truck accidents are almost never simply a single action resulting in an accident.
As such, it is important to consider what might create liability on the part of these parties in the event of a collision.
- Did the rental company rent the truck to an unlicensed driver?
This is the first of many actions that are based upon a rental company failing to properly confirm that a driver is capable of driving a rented vehicle. While an unlicensed driver is certainly a dangerous threat on the roadways with a rental truck and should take responsibility to not drive, a rental company is also responsible for ensuring that unlicensed drivers do not have the opportunity to use their vehicles. A company that knowingly allows an unlicensed driver to rent their vehicle, or should have known that a driver was unlicensed, will be found partially liable in most cases.
In the event of an accident, claiming an unawareness of the lack of a license will typically not be enough to protect the rental company from liability. However, if a driver deceived the company through forged documentation, then there may be an argument for a lack of liability on their part.
- Did the renter allow an unlicensed driver to drive their moving van?
If a renter knowingly allows an unlicensed driver to operate a moving van, or should have known that the driver was unlicensed, then they are partially liable for accidents that occur. Responsibility in this case usually does not lie with the rental company; they made a contract that would allow the renter to use the moving van, not with the unlicensed driver. As such, liability would lie with the renter.
- Did the rental company rent the truck to someone who was intoxicated?
New Jersey’s DWI laws can be applied to cases in which a rental company knew, or should have known that their customer was intoxicated when they first rented the vehicle. Such incidents provide the means for incredibly dangerous drunk driving accidents, and by enabling such acts, the company is liable for an accident that occurs.
- Was the rental truck properly inspected and maintained by the rental company before it was rented out?
Rental companies are responsible for ensuring that their vehicles are safe to drive through regular inspection and maintenance. For instance, Cintrone v. Hertz was a case in which the plaintiff (Cintrone) was injured when the brakes gave out in a truck rented by his employer. The plaintiff sued Hertz, the company that rented the vehicle out to the employer, suing for negligence and breach of warranty on their part. At first, the lower courts denied both motions. The judge dismissed the breach of warranty claim and the jury decided against the claim of negligence.
However, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of the breach of warranty claim. It reasoned that a business that rents out its vehicles implicitly promises that their vehicles are fit for service on the road. Because the rented truck’s brakes failed, a defect that should have been found and corrected during regular inspection, the company had broken its promise to Cintrone’s employer and Cintrone himself, creating liability on their part.
- Was the rental truck overloaded or improperly loaded?
A rental truck is always at risk of being overloaded or improperly loaded by movers with little experience in handling such tasks. If cargo were to be dumped onto a roadway by the vehicle, or the truck were to turn over due to weight, then the renter and those who assisted in loading the vehicle would be responsible for damages in the event of an accident.
- Was the renter or another driver negligent in their operation of their vehicles?
Oftentimes, rental truck accidents are born of the same mistakes and negligent behaviors found in regular car accidents. Speeding and aggressive driving in general can result in serious injuries for drivers and passengers, and New Jersey holds a dim view of drivers who are proven to engage in acts of aggressive driving and, worse, road rage. However, there are simpler acts of negligence that will result in injuries that are less deliberate, yet still dangerous to all involved.
Patel v. Patel involved plaintiff Rajesh Patel and his relative, defendant Ketul Patel, who was moving from one home to another. Rajesh was hit by the moving rental truck operated by Ketul when it jumped the sidewalk’s curb and struck him. Rajesh sued for negligence on the part of Ketul, but Ketul argued against this allegation, stating that Rajesh had been aware that the truck was moving backwards and should have known not to step behind the moving vehicle. Even if it had previously been stopped by the curb, the plaintiff should have known better and stayed out of the truck’s path while it was backing up.
The lower courts initially agreed with the defendant, assigning 60% of the liability to the plaintiff, as he knew the potential dangers of stepping behind the moving van yet did so anyway. As such, the plaintiff was not initially awarded any damages under New Jersey’s modified comparative fault rule, which does not allow a person with more than 50% of the blame to recover any damages.
However, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the lower courts. It said that, while Ketul could avoid liability by proving that Rajesh was mostly at fault for the accident, Ketul would have to prove Rajesh’s negligence at the trial itself. The lower court’s judge failed to inform the jury of this requirement so a new trial was ordered on the matter. None-the-less, this case demonstrates that a defendant can avoid liability by proving the plaintiff was mostly at fault for an accident, but the defendant must prove the plaintiff’s negligence at trial.
Case Study: $3.9 Million
What makes this case unique: Competing arguments on whether the victim had experienced “impending doom”; a big-shot attorney who was “too large” for the case.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes: you can sue, whether you are a renter of their vehicle, a passenger, or another driver. Rental companies are responsible for ensuring that their vehicles are properly maintained and only leased to individuals who can properly handle the vehicle.
Typically, yes, the PIP benefits of your auto policy and the benefits of your health insurance will both apply in an accident with a rental truck.
For people who do not have a lot of experience driving trucks or large vans, it would probably be a good idea for them to accept the additional coverage offered by the rental company. If an accident does occur, this policy will provide an additional source of compensation for medical expenses. So, for instance, if the PIP coverage of an accident victim’s auto policy is unable to cover all medical expenses, this optional coverage can be tapped to help pay for those expenses that exceed the PIP coverage amount.
What Should I Do if I’ve Been Injured in a Rental Truck Accident?
If you or a loved one has been injured in a rental truck accident, contact Rosenblum Law for a free, no-obligation consultation today. Our experienced personal injury attorneys can analyze the situation and negotiate the best possible settlement for you. Call 888-815-3649 or email us today.