Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Liability in Car Rental Accidents Caused by Foreign Drivers

Wade Coye, Accident Attorney
It may come as a surprise, but did you know that people visiting Florida from foreign countries have no more obligation than anyone else to carry bodily injury coverage to protect people in car accidents they may cause? Florida drivers aren't required by law to have BI coverage, which helps pay for any injuries that the insured person causes in an accident. Foreign drivers are also exempt from this aspect of Florida's insurance law since they don't own a vehicle in the state--a fact that can leave accident victims with few options for benefits after an accident. Even if the person comes from a country where there is no possibility of serving them with a lawsuit, much less forcing them to pay for injuries they cause due to negligent driving, there is virtually no requirement for their driving behavior or insurance in the United States.

It gets better, for the car rental agency at least, because they have no obligation to pay the damages the drivers cause either. All anyone from a foreign country needs to rent a car in the United States is a drivers license (from a foreign country) and a credit card. With that minimal bit of information, the rental car (or truck) company can rent whatever they choose with no consequences for the havoc that person may cause.

Laws that Protect Foreign Drivers
This unfortunate problem came about in a piece of national legislation signed into law several years ago. Under 49 USC 30106, a car or truck rental company cannot be held responsible simply because they own the car involved in the accident. Instead, the liability rests with the person who was driving the vehicle. But other countries might not require that their drivers buy insurance coverage to protect accident victims. This is most remarkable because the law does nothing to require people to pay for the damages they have actually caused--effectively, there is no real remedy.

Forces behind the Legislation
The rental agencies lobbied hard for this law because they used to have responsibility to pay damages when one of their vehicles was involved in an accident that hurt someone. Now, in a remarkable bit of corporate welfare at its finest, taxpayers are required to pay for the damages caused by uninsured foreign drivers. When the person injured by a foreign driver uses Medicare or Medicaid to pay for their injuries, even more of the recovery bill is footed by the taxpayer.

How to Protect Yourself
The best means of protecting yourself and your family is to carry uninsured motorist coverage. UM coverage will fill in some of the gaps in coverage if the person who hits you has no insurance or assets to help provide for your recovery. Just as important is to remember to notify your congressman and state legislators that requiring rental car companies to ensure adequate insurance is a necessity, not a luxury, and that corporate welfare is something no one can afford. We may not think that this situation can happen to us, but it may be worth it to revise your policy now before you find yourself in a legal battle for benefits after an accident with a driver who lives outside of the country.