When passengers and pedestrians are injured in car crashes, recovering PIP benefits sometimes comes down to the person who owns the vehicle that hit them. When that is a rental car, it can create confusion at court.
When PIP Benefits Depend on Vehicle Ownership
After an auto accident, injured motorists usually turn to their own insurance providers for no-fault personal injury protection benefits (PIP benefits). Even if they were not driving, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians can file a claim for PIP benefits on any policy in their name, their spouse’s name, or that of a relative living in the same household.
However, sometimes there isn’t an insurance policy in the family. Especially in dense urban areas or low-income households, some families go without vehicles or decide to drive without Michigan’s mandatory no-fault insurance on their vehicles. If a driver is injured behind the wheel of an uninsured vehicle, he or she is out of luck. The illegal act excludes him or her from collecting no-fault benefits. But when the injured person is a pedestrian, cyclist, or passenger in the motor vehicle, there are more options.
The Michigan No-Fault Act says that passengers and others injured while not driving who don’t have insurance themselves (or in their households), can turn to the policy of the driver or owner of any other vehicle involved in the accident. When that car is a rental car, though, it can be difficult to tell exactly what “ownership” means.
Who Owns a Rental Car?
Technical title ownership of a rental car isn’t as important as who has the obligation to insure the vehicle. The rental company – such as Enterprise or Hertz – retains title ownership of a motor vehicle no matter how long the rental term. In the cases of short-term rentals, the rental company may have a policy that you can use. However, if a person rents a vehicle for more than 30 days, he or she becomes legally responsible to maintain no-fault insurance on the car. Even in short-term rentals, many drivers have a no-fault policy on another car that will apply or may have rental car insurance to cover any damages caused by their use.
The deadline to file a Notice of Claim with a no-fault insurance provider is sometimes very short. That means determining whether coverage is available through the rental car company, the driver, or both must happen in the first few days after a crash. Your auto accident attorney may file notices of claims with a variety of auto insurance companies, and then determine which insurer is the top priority payer after the fact.
Third Party Damages Against Drivers and Owners
In serious injury cases, PIP benefits aren’t enough to cover all your losses. You may need more than 3 years of lost wages or may face disability or disfigurement, and pain and suffering after the crash. In these cases, you may qualify for a Third-Party negligence action. A recent published Court of Appeals case, Bennett v Russell, says that in some cases, you may be able to sue both the renter and the person actually driving the vehicle for these damages not covered by your PIP benefits. In Bennett, Dennis Hogge rented a car from Enterprise Leasing Company of Detroit and then allowed Carrie Russell to drive the vehicle knowing she did not have a license and may have been drunk. Russell struck Deborah Bennett and Marsha Wilson, causing serious injuries. The court said that a jury could determine Hogge negligently entrusted the rental car to Russell, so the injured parties could continue their Third-Party case against both the person who rented the vehicle and the person behind the wheel.
When a rental car is involved in a serious injury accident, it can sometimes be difficult to tell where to turn for PIP benefits. At Macomb Law Group, our auto insurance attorneys know how to sort out who owns a rental car for PIP benefit purposes, and where to file your Notice of Claim to preserve your rights. If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact Macomb Law Group and get our team working for you.