An auto accident in your own car is bad enough. But it gets even worse if the accident happens while you're driving a rental car.
What you need is a plan to protect your rights and increase your chances of receiving compensation for accident-related losses (called "damages"). This article will help you make a two-step plan:
- Step 1: At the accident scene. As with any auto accident, you should get help for the injured and, if possible, gather evidence.
- Step 2: After the accident scene. Call your insurance company, the rental agency, and others, then continue gathering evidence.
Let's get started with your plan.
Step 1: What to Do at the Accident Scene
The fact that you were driving a rental car doesn't change what you need to do at the accident scene. You're likely to be extremely stressed, anxious, angry, or frightened, all of which can make it difficult to think clearly. Do your best to stay calm and follow this roadmap:
- Check to see if anybody is hurt. If so, or if you're not sure, call 911 right away. Don't try to move anyone who is injured unless the person is in immediate danger.
- Call the police. State law—and your rental contract—likely require you to call the police when an accident causes injuries or vehicle damage over a certain dollar amount.
- Collect contact and insurance information from everyone involved in the accident.
- Get contact information from anyone who witnessed the accident, including passengers, bystanders, and other drivers.
- Gather whatever evidence you can without getting in the way of police or other investigators. Take photos of the scene, including the point of impact, any skid marks, the vehicles involved, and their post-accident positions. If you can measure (even approximately) things like skid marks and the post-collision distance any vehicles traveled, do so. Make notes about anything significant you hear at the scene, whether from drivers, passengers, police officers, witnesses, or others. If you can, check the area for surveillance cameras.
- Be careful about what you say. Cooperate fully with police and other first responders, but when you're asked to give your version of how the accident happened, speak only in factual terms. Describe what you saw, heard, and did, not your feelings or emotions. If you're unsure, don't guess.
- Be sure to get the responding police officer's name, badge number, and contact information. If more than one officer responded, get this information for the officer in charge of the scene. You and your insurers are going to need a copy of the police report once it's available, so be sure to ask how you can get a copy.
Step 2: What to Do After You've Left the Accident Scene
After you've left the accident scene, take some time to calm down and compose yourself. If you think you need medical care, that should be your first priority. As soon as you can, do these things:
- If you're relying on your personal auto policy for coverage, contact your insurer's claims office. You can find the number on your proof-of-insurance card or online. If you're not sure whether you can or should bring a claim against your own policy, contact your insurance agent or a car accident attorney.
- Contact the car rental agency. You can find the claims or emergency number on your rental contract. Be ready to provide basic information about the accident—when and where it happened, contact and insurance information for everyone involved, and whether you're aware of any injuries or fatalities. If you have insurance coverage for the accident through your personal policy or the rental agency, have handy the names of the insurance companies and any claim numbers you've been assigned. Don't admit you were at fault and, at this point, decline to provide a recorded statement. Before you record a statement you should speak to an attorney. Explain that you need time to gather your thoughts and make some notes, and you'll get back to them shortly.
- If you used a credit card to rent the car, contact the company's customer service office. You can probably find the number on the back of your credit card.
- If you purchased insurance coverage through another company, like a company that sells travel insurance, contact that company's claims office. If you don't have the number handy, you should be able to find it online.
- When you contact each of these companies, get the name of the person you are speaking with and the claim number you're assigned. Carefully write down all instructions you're given, and follow those instructions as best you can.
- Write down everything you can remember about how the accident happened as soon as possible, along with details about your injuries. You should also make notes of any conversations you have with police, insurance adjusters, witnesses, healthcare providers, and others regarding the accident, your injuries, and your medical care.
- As a rule, you have a duty to cooperate with your insurance company when you make a claim. This means you have to comply with your insurance company's reasonable requests for information. But there are limits on what's considered reasonable. If you're unsure of your obligations, contact an attorney.
- Expect to be contacted by the other driver's insurance company soon after the accident. Unlike your own insurer, you're under no duty to cooperate with them. They're not looking out for you, they're looking out for their insured driver and the company. Be very careful about what you say. Unless you're instructed otherwise by your insurance company or an attorney, don't give written or recorded statements to other insurance companies.
- Keep in mind that what's in the best interests of your insurers or the car rental agency might not be the same as what's in your own best interests. If you get conflicting instructions from them, or if you're concerned that they may not be looking out for your interests, contact your attorney for advice.
A rental car accident is an incredibly stressful event, whether or not you're at fault. If you've got a plan for what to do when the worst happens, you'll be more likely to take the necessary action to protect yourself.
Of course, the facts and circumstances of each auto accident are different. If you have questions about what to do (or not do) in your case, speak to your insurance agent or talk to a lawyer. Learn more about how an attorney can help with your car accident claim. You can also connect with an attorney directly from this page for free.