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Who is responsible for rental car accidents?

Summer is a popular time for travel in California, and many tourists fly into the state and then rent a car to drive while on vacation. However, car accidents can happen at any time, even when a person is on holiday. Thus, it is important to understand what the law has to say about rental car liability.

In general, when a motorist in a rental car causes a car accident, that motorist's insurance policy may cover the damages, or the victim could pursue a lawsuit against the motorist. However, before 2005, car rental companies could also be liable for rental car accidents based on the legal theory of "vicarious liability," in states where such lawsuits could be brought against the person who specifically owned the vehicle.

However, in 2005 Congress passed the "Graves Amendment." This amendment makes it almost impossible for a victim to pursue a lawsuit against a rental car company based on vicarious liability. For a car accident victim to prevail in a lawsuit against a rental car company, it would need to be shown that the rental car company was negligent, and that the victim suffered damages in part due to that negligence. The Graves Amendment preempts state law, as most rental cars are operated more than one state, and thus are considered part of interstate commerce.

So, with the passage of the Graves Amendment, suing the rental company following a car crash may not be possible. However, if it can be shown the company was negligent, for example if the vehicle was not properly maintained or if employees were improperly trained or managed, then it may be possible to pursue a personal injury claim against the company. Car accidents can be traumatic experiences, so knowing who can be held responsible is an important part of recovering compensation for the damages suffered.

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