With the rise of technology, American culture is increasingly moving towards a “do it yourself” approach to things that previously required professional help. Moving is no exception. Across New York, people can be seen moving into new apartments, condos, and homes using rental trucks from companies such as U-Haul, Budget, Penske, and Enterprise.
Rental trucks are capable of inflicting severe physical harm and considerable property damage. Pursuing justice is not entirely straightforward, but in the capable hands of an experienced personal injury attorney, those who are injured can recover fair compensation and make significant progress on the road to recovery.
Why Are Rental Trucks Dangerous?
The danger rental trucks pose to motorists and pedestrians alike can be boiled down to the simple fact that these vehicles are driven primarily by people without the experience necessary to safely operate them. Most popular truck rental companies only require renters to show proof of auto insurance and a valid Class-D (non-commercial) driver’s license. Though convenient, these standards don’t measure up to the challenges of driving the vehicles they rent out. Some of the factors that can lead to accidents are:
Rental trucks present driving challenges not customarily present when driving a standard automobile. One prominent difference is that rental trucks ordinarily have far more blind spots. Rental truck accidents commonly arise from unsafe lane changes by rental truck drivers who misjudge surrounding road conditions and other vehicles.
Rental trucks also differ with respect to stopping distance. Given its size, a rental truck requires a much greater stopping distance than an ordinary car, a fact that inexperienced truck drivers frequently don’t realize until it’s too late. This can result in a serious rear-end accident.
Another challenge unique to rental trucks is safely turning. Drivers take for granted that standard cars permit them to turn free of concern that they will obstruct multiple lanes while maneuvering. This luxury does not extend to large trucks, and accidents commonly occur when rental truck drivers miscalculate the space they require to safely turn their vehicle, particularly when making a right turn at a red light.
While it is true that truck rental companies offer vehicles of varying sizes, the point still stands that these rentals present some degree of difficulty not presented by traditional cars. It is for these reasons and more that New York law imposes stringent requirements to obtain a commercial truck driver’s license. They are difficult to operate, and their operators should ideally be trained and vetted before taking to the road. Untrained rental truck drivers are more likely to create unsafe driving conditions.
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Options for Compensation When Involved in a Rental Truck Accident
The particular difficulty faced by people involved in any traffic accident is that, in the wake of injuries and property damage, they are immediately confronted with medical and insurance issues. That’s why it’s crucial to recognize that, although an attorney is not necessary to recover some compensation after an accident, it frequently makes the difference between being underpaid with extensive out-of-pocket expenses versus receiving all of the compensation you need and deserve.
New York’s state law offers motorists four options for compensation when involved in a rental truck accident.
- No-fault or Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Benefits
- Third-party Insurance Claims
- Filing a Lawsuit
- Small Claims Court
No-fault or Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Benefits
New York is a “no-fault” state. State law mandates that New York motorists carry auto insurance with personal injury protection (PIP) benefits, which provide a way for insurance companies to compensate policyholders involved in a traffic accident regardless of who was at fault. This option is available to all insured New York motorists and is a popular option among drivers likely to be at-fault for an accident as well as those who sustain only minor injuries.
However, New York motorists frequently seek to opt out of the no-fault compensation track due to its significant limitations:
- Up to $50,000 for each of the policyholder, the policyholder’s passengers, and any pedestrians hit by the policyholder’s vehicle
- Medical expenses, lost wages, and other reasonable and necessary accident-related expenses
- Non-monetary expenses, such as pain and suffering
- Property damage
Given their destructive potential, those injured in rental truck accidents often find PIP benefits aren’t enough to cover all of their expenses. If PIP benefits fall short, victims may pursue alternatives where fault is taken into consideration: filing a third-party insurance claim or filing a lawsuit. However, these options can only be pursued by motorists who meet New York’s lawsuit threshold.
New York’s no-fault system features legally imposed limitations on when people may opt out of this system in favor of pursuing a claim against the other driver involved in their accident. These limitations take the form of a legal threshold, as outlined in ISC §51-5104. One way to satisfy the legal threshold is by having a “serious injury” within the meaning of ISC §51-5102(d), which includes:
- significant disfigurement
- bone fracture
- permanent limitation of use of a body organ or member
- significant limitation of use of a body function or system, or
- substantially full disability for 90 days
Even those who aren’t seriously injured may go outside of the no-fault system, provided they meet any of the following conditions:
- Have covered expenses that exceed the PIP benefits’ $50,000 cap
- Sustain injuries resulting in death
- Don’t have insurance that complies with New York law’s minimum coverage requirements
Third-party Insurance Claim
A third-party insurance claim is filed with a liable party’s insurance company. It amounts to an allegation that this other party was at fault for causing the accident and that, consequently, this party’s insurance company should cover costs like medical bills. A third-party claim triggers an investigation by an insurance claims adjuster, an agent of the insurance company with which the claim is filed. This investigation entails interviewing the drivers, assessing the available evidence, and determining who is at-fault for the accident.
Unlike no-fault claims, third-party claims will cover non-monetary things, such as for pain and suffering, and there is no $50,000 cap. A drawback is the fact that an agent of the insurance company responsible for paying out is also the decision maker as to how much compensation is justified. For this reason and more, it is not advisable for one to pursue the third-party claims process without the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney. This is especially true in the case of rental truck accidents, as these cases can involve tricky questions as to whether liability resides with the driver or the rental company.
Filing a Lawsuit
Filing a lawsuit shares some similarities with third-party insurance claims. A lawsuit permits those injured to seek non-monetary expenses, such as for pain and suffering, does not limit claims to a $50,000 cap, and turns on a determination of fault for causing the accident.
Lawsuits also differ from third-party claims in crucial ways. First, they tend to be more complex than third-party claims. Second, they can involve many months of preparation and court hearings, whereas much of third-party claims’ procedures are simplified by allocating most of the responsibility to the claims adjuster. Third, lawsuits are often favored by people for fairness. Unlike with a third-party insurance claim, the decision making power in a lawsuit rests with an impartial judge or jury without a personal stake in the case’s outcome.
To an even greater degree than with a third-party claim, it’s important for one pursuing a lawsuit to be backed by the expertise of a qualified personal injury attorney. Mishandling the procedural complexities of a lawsuit bears significant consequences, mainly injured parties missing out on compensation they could have otherwise received. It is also crucial to note that most cases do not actually end up going to trial. Many personal injury attorneys successfully achieve just compensation for their clients by negotiating a fair settlement amount without the need for a lengthy trial.
Small Claims Court
Small claims court is best suited for people who want to represent themselves in matters involving small sums of money. UCT §18-1801 defines small claims court’s jurisdiction as being limited to monetary claims in amounts less than $5,001. At small claims court, the procedures are reduced down to each party simply making their case to the judge and the judge rendering a decision. In the rental truck accident context, this option is frequently used to fill in the gaps of a no-fault claim, as small claims court provides a means of recovering compensation for property damage, while no-fault claims do not.
Who Is Liable in a Rental Truck Accident, the Driver or the Rental Company?
Rental truck accidents always involve at least two levels of potential fault or liability: the rental truck driver and the truck rental company. Rental truck accident cases are exceedingly complicated because when filing a third-party insurance claim or a lawsuit,
One should keep in mind that both third-party insurance settlements and lawsuit verdicts are usually paid by the at-fault party’s insurance company. Consequently, pursuing either option demands consideration of each party’s liability for causing the accident and their respective abilities to pay damages.
Rental Truck Driver
The question of a rental truck driver’s potential to be held liable for a rental truck accident is relatively straightforward. A rental truck driver can be held liable for such an accident if they were at-fault for causing the accident.
A rental truck driver’s ability to pay damages, however, is more complicated. The most reputable truck rental companies customarily require drivers to present proof of a valid driver’s license and auto insurance. Truck rental companies also offer drivers the option of purchasing supplemental insurance. For example, U-Haul offers two tiers of insurance that drivers can purchase to supplement their auto insurance:
- Safemove covers
- vehicle damage
- cargo damage
- vehicle’s driver and passengers
- Safemove Plus additionally includes
- $1,000,000 of supplemental liability coverage
The trouble is that there is no safeguard ensuring rental truck drivers are covered by insurance. Though drivers are required to show proof of auto insurance, many auto insurance policies exclude rental trucks from their coverage. Moreover, drivers are ordinarily not required to purchase the rental company’s supplemental insurance. Consequently, it is possible for a rental truck driver involved in an accident to be, essentially, uninsured. Part of the value our expert team provides to those involved in a rental truck accident is the know-how to investigate precisely what insurance coverage the rental truck driver had at the time of the accident. This is a key step in determining how to go about pursuing compensation.
Truck Rental Company
A truck rental company’s capacity to pay damages is quite certain. Truck rental companies customarily carry robust insurance policies with considerable liability coverage so as to protect the company in the event that they are the object of a lawsuit. Their liability to pay, however, is limited by law.
Truck rental companies’ liability is limited by 49 U.S. Code § 30106, also known as the “Graves Amendment.” This federal law exempts vehicle rental companies from liability for renters’ negligence provided that the rental company has not acted negligently or criminally. There does exist a slight conflict between this federal law and NY Veh & Traf L § 388 (2019), New York’s state law providing an owner of a vehicle can be held liable for death or injury caused to another by the negligence of someone who operated their vehicle with the owner’s consent. This conflict was resolved by the courts where it was determined that the federal rule “preempts” the state rule. This means that in situations where the federal and state rules conflict, such as in the event of a car accident involving a rental truck where the truck rental company is sued, the federal rule is the one that applies. The limits on truck rental companies’ liability is shown in the case of Donohue v. Ranieri.
Michael Donohue was helping a shoe company move to a different location when Michael Pattie, who was operating a U-Haul truck as part of the move, accidentally backed the truck into Donohue while he stood behind the truck holding the ramp. Donohue sued Pattie, alleging Pattie was negligent. U-Haul was dragged into the lawsuit by Pattie, who claimed U-Haul was liable because the vehicle only reversed as it did because it was defective. Finding no convincing evidence that the vehicle was defective, the court agreed with U-Haul’s reasoning that New York’s state law is preempted by the federal law exempting truck rental companies from liability unless they are negligent or act criminally.
Proving Fault in a Rental Truck Accident
A hallmark of New York’s state law concerning traffic accidents is the distinction drawn between no-fault and at-fault compensation options. But what does it really mean to be “at-fault” in a traffic accident? The primary way in which the law thinks about fault for causing a traffic accident is through the concept of negligence.
Negligence is roughly translatable to “carelessness.” For one to be liable for negligence in the eyes of the law, it must be true that they had some legal duty to act in a particular way, failed to act consistent with that duty, and their failure to act resulted in injuries to another person.
An important feature of New York’s negligence law is “comparative” or “contributory” negligence. The idea is that fault is often not all or nothing. Traffic accidents involve a complex series of events where any number of parties could have acted negligently in a way that contributed to causing the accident. New York employs a pure comparative fault model. This means that when insurance claims adjusters or courts are considering fault, they will assign a percentage of fault to each party involved, and this percentage will affect how much each party is entitled to recover. New York’s approach also permits drivers who were deemed more than 50% responsible for causing the accident to recover compensation proportionate to their level of fault.
A rental truck driver can be at-fault in a number of ways. Negligent driving can take many forms, including:
- Impaired driving (driving while intoxicated)
- Aggressive and reckless driving (speeding)
- Distracted driving (texting)
- Driving while fatigued
- Failing to follow the rules of the road (not respecting another’s right of way)
Proving a rental truck driver was at-fault for an accident is often difficult because evidence isn’t always well-preserved. Personal injury attorneys have extensive experience conducting these types of investigations and can access many resources more readily than the average person. Our comprehensive fault investigation involves interviewing eyewitnesses, assessing vehicle damage, consulting traffic camera footage, scrutinizing police reports, and examining medical records.
Truck Rental Company
There are a variety of ways in which truck rental companies can be negligent in a manner contributing to causing such accidents. Our thorough fault inquiry involves intense scrutiny of both the circumstances of the crash and the preceding circumstances of the truck rental to gain a full picture of which parties could be found liable.
Negligence in Renting to the Driver
A truck rental company has a duty to exercise care when renting out its vehicles. This duty can be breached in various ways. For example:
- A rental company renting a truck to an unlicensed driver. This careless act puts others at risk and can expose a rental company to liability for accidents caused by the unlicensed driver while operating its truck.
- A rental company renting a truck to a driver that shows signs of intoxication. Similar to how bars and restaurants can incur liability for accidents caused by intoxicated drivers they serve unlawfully, rental companies can incur liability for renting a truck to a driver who shows signs of intoxication, as this act of renting the vehicle out to a person in this condition carelessly puts others in harm’s way.
The question of negligence is seen in the case of David Byrne v. James Collins. David Byrne brought a wrongful death suit against Budget Truck Rental on behalf of his sister, who was riding her bike when she was fatally struck by Collins, a man driving a truck rented from Budget. David accused Budget of “negligent entrustment,” meaning Budget was careless in renting a truck to Collins. David based this negligence accusation on the facts that Collins’s driver’s license had been restricted to a Class C license, a fact Budget allegedly did not investigate, and that Collins was alleged to have shown signs of drug intoxication on the day he rented the truck.
The court ultimately sided with Budget, dismissing David’s lawsuit against them. In its reasoning, the court began by citing the rule that for a rental company to be liable for negligent entrustment in this context, they must have had special knowledge of a characteristic or condition peculiar to either the person renting the truck or to the truck itself that would make use of the truck unreasonably dangerous.
In other words, rental companies could not rent trucks to people they would know to be unsafe nor rent trucks that would themselves be unsafe to drive. In this case, Collins’s license, though restricted, was valid, and testimony suggested Collins was not under the influence of drugs when he rented the truck. The court concluded Budget had no special knowledge of anything about Collins or the truck that would make the rental unsafe and therefore did not negligently entrust their truck to Collins.
Negligent Vehicle Maintenance
Truck rental companies are also responsible for maintaining the safety of their vehicles. A rental truck can be in an unsafe driving condition for various reasons:
- Mechanical failure
- Bald tires
- Faulty brakes
- Faulty steering
- Loose door
- Defective backdoor (tailgate)
A rental company that knowingly rents out a defective vehicle or rents out a defective vehicle having failed to properly maintain said vehicle can be held liable under a theory of negligence. These acts are careless and breach a duty of care to keep renters and other people safe from avoidable hazards caused by a company’s vehicles.
A final category of entities capable of incurring liability for causing rental truck accidents are third-parties, typically vehicle manufacturers and the State. Part of why accidents occur so frequently is the sheer volume of things capable of causing an accident. Even when the rental truck company and the drivers are careful, accidents can still occur because of things like mechanical failure and unsafe road conditions.
Ordinarily, mechanical failure opens up car manufacturers and dealers to product liability lawsuits, offering a new means of compensation for injured motorists. However, mechanical failures involving rental trucks would most likely result in a lawsuit against the rental company for its failure to maintain its vehicles, though an attorney could explore a products liability option. In the event of unsafe road conditions, a motorist involved in a rental truck accident has the option of filing a lawsuit against the State alleging the State’s negligence in failing to maintain safe road conditions contributed to the accident.
How Common Are Rental Truck Accidents?
National statistics can shed some light on the dangers rental trucks can pose to New York motorists. In a 2014 report to Congress, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) detailed various nationwide studies from the years 2005 to 2010 concerning the incidence and causes of rental truck accidents. The report cited 145 fatal “daily rental truck crashes” in this five-year period, a relatively high number given that rental trucks are not driven regularly. The report went on to analyze what causes these accidents, observing that of these 145 fatal accidents, 44% were caused by the rental truck driver, 56% were attributed to another vehicle, another driver, or the environment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Drivers that rent a truck should consult their policy to determine whether they will be covered while driving the rented truck. Many insurance policies exclude coverage for truck rentals. New York drivers that get into an accident with a rental truck while driving their standard automobile will be eligible for no-fault coverage, assuming they are insured
The time it takes to recover compensation after an accident can vary drastically. For example, third-party insurance claims may be resolved more quickly than lawsuits because lawsuits theoretically involve more procedural steps. On the other hand, a lawsuit could be resolved fairly quickly by the parties reaching a settlement agreement, whereas some third-party insurance claims can be fairly drawn out. A rough estimate can usually be provided by an attorney once they have assessed the particulars of a case and determined a strategy for recovery.
The proper party to sue depends on two factors: who can actually be held liable and who will be in the best position to pay damages. A rental truck driver might be at-fault, but if they aren’t insured, it might be more difficult to get compensation. A truck rental company typically carries liability insurance, so they have the ability to pay, but rental companies can’t be liable unless they acted negligently or criminally. As is often the answer, it will depend on the precise facts and circumstances of a case.
Yes, though it can be difficult. If a rental truck driver is not covered by insurance with respect to their activities while driving the rental truck, a judgment for damages against them can be difficult to enforce, though it is not impossible. One way a judgment can be enforced is if the at-fault driver pays voluntarily. If the at-fault driver will not pay voluntarily, the judgment can be enforced by taking action against the driver’s assets, such as property and bank accounts. This is a complicated process typically requiring the expertise of an experienced attorney.
Who Should You Contact if You’ve Been in a Rental Truck Accident?
The knowledgeable personal injury attorneys at Rosenblum Law are committed to ensuring rental truck accident victims don’t brave the path to recovery alone. Our attorneys tirelessly advocate for our clients until they have received the compensation they are owed. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 for a free consultation.