Accidents with Tourists; Rental Car Liability Under the Graves Amendment

In Central Florida and the Tampa Bay area, out-of-state and frequently out-of-country tourists are common. Unfortunately, oftentimes tourists are unaware of local road patterns and how to handle Florida's traffic and weather and are involved in accidents with residents. But what happens if an out-of-state or out-of-country resident is driving a rental car and is uninsured or underinsured? Although Florida Statute 324.021(9)(b) suggests that the rental car company is liable to set limits, the Florida Supreme Court held in Vargas v. Enterprise Leasing Co., 60 So.2d. 1037 (Fla. 2011) that the Federal Graves Amendment (49 U.S.C. 30106) holding that, without negligence or criminal acts, a rental car company cannot be held liable for the negligent acts of the renter, preempts the Florida Statute. The Supreme Court elaborated on this opinion in Rosado v. Daimler-Chrysler Financial Services Trust, 112 So.3d 1165 (Fla. 2013) in finding that long-term lessors are not responsible for maintaining the state minimum insurance requirements, due to the preemption by the Graves Amendment.

Few cases have addressed what acts rise to the level of negligence on part of the rental car agency, however, it is not necessary for rental car companies to verify that a renter has a valid drivers' license or to look into the renter's driving record. Florida Statute 322.38 requires that a valid drivers' license be shown and the signatures compared between the license and the paperwork, and that this information be retained; but no license is required if the renter's home country does not require a license and no further inquiry is necessary beyond visual inspection that the presented license, if applicable, is facially valid.While a case may be made if the rental car company is truly negligent, a Florida resident injured at the fault of an uninsured or underinsured out-of-state or out-of-country driver in a rental car may be limited to recovery through that resident's own UM coverage.

If you are involved in an accident with a non-resident, as with a non-resident, be sure to obtain as much information as possible from the drivers, including their names, drivers' license numbers, contact information including multiple phone numbers, and the specifics of their own auto insurance including insurance company, policy number and effective dates, in the event that they are non-cooperative once they leave the state. Also secure all information concerning the rental vehicle and rental company, including the rental company name, specific location from which the vehicle was rented, and license plate state and number of the vehicle. It is important to act quickly after the incident to allow for immediate contact before they leave the state if possible and Pilka & Associates can assist you in reporting the incident and opening claims with your carrier, the carrier of the at-fault driver, and the rental car company. Additionally, given the business-friendly Graves Amendment as well as due to the number of uninsured or underinsured drivers in Florida, it is wise for Florida residents to purchase sufficient UM coverage to ensure that coverage is available for their own damages in the event that they are injured due to the fault of a resident or non-resident driver.

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact Pilka & Associates, P.A. for a free consultation at (813) 653-3800 or [email protected].