What you need to know

Row of rental cars in Florida

It is well known that Florida is a major tourist destination. This means that many rental cars are being on our roads each day.

Because of a little known federal law called the Graves Amendment, if you are in a car accident caused by a driver of a rental car, you may be left with only your insurance to pay for your damages.

Under federal law, the car rental company is not liable for your damages if someone they rent a car to causes you damage.  This is yet another reason why you should buy underinsured/uninsured motorist insurance (commonly known as "UM" insurance ) for your car. UM insurance protects you if you are injured by someone who has no insurance or not enough insurance.

The Full Story

Florida is known for sun, beaches and theme parks. For those of us who live here, we also know Florida is the destination for millions of visitors, most of them driving rental cars. Unfortunately, when one of these drivers causes an accident, they may not have sufficient insurance to pay damages. As the result of a little known federal law called the Graves Amendment, the rental car company is not responsible for paying your damages.  The Graves Amendment changes longstanding Florida law that held the owner of a vehicle liable for damages caused by a negligent driver.  This is called the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine. Under this concept, vehicles are viewed as dangerous and as such, liability resulting from accidents caused by rented vehicles was placed on the owner of the vehicle in addition to the renter. The view behind this was that the owner of the vehicle was the one who created any danger by entrusting their vehicle to another individual.

Needless to say, the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine was highly criticized by rental car companies. Despite the fact that rental car companies make billions of dollars renting cars, they didn’t want any of the responsibly. Enter the Graves Amendment. The Graves Amendment was inserted into a federal transportation bill known as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Act. A provision of the Graves Amendment called for the abolition of state or common law that held rental agencies liable for the driver’s negligence.  This applies unless the agency itself was negligent or engaged in criminal wrongdoing. In short, this means if you are in an accident caused by a rental vehicle and the driver chose not to purchase insurance coverage, you will be left with only your own insurance to cover any damages.

UM Coverage Protects Against Uninsured Rental Cars

What this means is that it is critically important to have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM). UM coverage is optional coverage which can be purchased on your auto insurance policy. UM can pay for your damages from an accident where the at-fault driver is either uninsured or under-insured. While UM will pay for damages relating to any injuries you have, UM will not pay for damages to your vehicle. 

Navigating automobile insurance laws can be difficult, especially when dealing with injuries and medical bills from an accident. The changes to the law brought by the Graves Amendment can leave Florida drivers with only their own insurance to help them. UM coverage can help fill this gap. If you, a friend or a loved one have been in an accident, DeLoach, Hofstra, & Cavonis can help you. 

Hopefully, you found this article helpful, and thank you for visiting the website. Please feel free to call me at (727) 397-5571.

Paul R. Cavonis
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Injury Law and Board Certified Civil Trial Attorney