Gettting a Recovery for Auto Accidents Involving Zipcar and Other Rental Vehicles


 

A Queens judge has ruled that Zipcars are no different from conventional rental cars.  See Minto v. Zipcar New York, Inc. 

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, please feel free to call me for a free consultation at 800-581-1434 or write to letters@seitelman.com.

Rental car agencies are protected from liability from negligent operation of its car by its renter.  In other words, the vehicle owner, the car rental company, will not be liable for the renter’s negligence in the event of an accident.  The federal law, popularly known as the Graves Amendment, has created this special liability protection to renting and leasing companies.  See our prior post, “Immunity for Car Rental Agencies–How It Works.” 

The federal Graves Amendment overrules New York law.  New York’s law provides that the vehicle owner is vicariously liable for the negligence of the operator.  The Graves Amendment only changes this rule regarding rental and leased vehicles. 

In the Queens case the injured plaintiff sued the operator of the other vehicle and Zipcar, the vehicle owner.  The court ruled that Zipcar would not be liable under New York’s law of vicarious liability.

Zipcar has a different arrangement than the typical car rental agency, such as Hertz.  Zipcar is a “car sharing club” in which members get “use” of a Zipcar for as little as an hour or part of a day.  A renter has to join the “club.”  In comparison, traditional rent-a-car companies rent cars for a minimum of one day, and there is no membership requirement.

The court found that Zipcar is no different from any other car rental agency.  The concept of the “club’ is a mere marketing device which does not alter Zipcar’s status as a car rental company.  Therefore, the Graves Amendment protects Zipcar from suit.

Although Zipcar is out of the case, Zipcar’s insurance will provide its renter-operator the minimum insurance coverage under New York law.  A future post will discuss the insurance of a rental car. 

If you have been injured in automobile accident, please feel free to call me at 800-581-1434 for a free consultation or write to letters@seitelman.com.

Mark E. Seitelman, 6/16/10, www.seitelman.com.

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7 Responses to Gettting a Recovery for Auto Accidents Involving Zipcar and Other Rental Vehicles

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  4. Mike says:

    I have a question.

    I understand that the point of the Graves Amendment is to abolish vicarious liability because the rental car company doesn’t have control over the renter-driver.

    However, how does the law treat a situation where the accident was the result of faulty breaks and not the renter-driver’s poor operation of the vehicle? Would the rental car company (the vehicle owner) be responsible in that case?

    • I cannot provide legal advice in this setting, and if you have an actual case, then you should check with an attorney in your locality.

      Generally, the Graves Amendment will not protect the rental company from poor maintainence or repair of the vehicle. As you illustrated in your example, the rental company would be liable for faulty brakes. Of course, you must prove that the rental company had notice of this condition. The mere, sudden failure of the brakes will not automatically impose liability on the owner. The injured party would have to show that the rental company should have known of the condition and failed to fix it.

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