A Queens judge has ruled that Zipcars are no different from conventional rental cars. See Minto v. Zipcar New York, Inc.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark E. Seitelman, 6/16/10, www.seitelman.com.