Vanamali Tay had a rental car accident during her recent visit to San Francisco. She had rented a car through Alamo and thought she had liability insurance. But she didn’t, and now she wants help with a $15,000 repair bill.
Fortunately, the accident did not hurt Tay. Unfortunately, Alamo insists that she pay for the damage instead.
Quick Sidebar: Although we are consumer advocates here at Elliott Advocacy, my team and I firmly believe that if you damage a rental car, you should pay the price. And, in fact, a vast majority of car rental customers who get into an accident do the right thing. This is How? ‘Or’ What we come to that point – the point of doing the right thing – which is disputed.
Tay says Alamo misled her. She thought the company had provided her with insurance coverage. Alamo says they didn’t cheat on her at all.
Anyone renting a car should read this case. It emphasizes the importance of reading and understand a contract. It’s also a reminder to think about rental car insurance before renting a vehicle.
A car rental accident without insurance – and a lot of uncertainty
Tay, who is from California but has been living in France for two years while pursuing higher education, reserved the Alamo car for a recent visit to the United States.
“The booking confirmation said I had liability protection included. It also included collision damage waiver,” she says. had a pre-marked place signed and handed me the contract after taking my California license and credit information.
Alamo says it declined liability protection.
Tay doesn’t think that’s fair.
“I want Alamo to pay the damages (to the other party) because they carry state-mandated liability insurance,” she says. “I also want Alamo to admit that it did not follow the due diligence required by the State of California to orally inform [the renter of] all insurance and costs when renting a car. My transaction took two minutes without any spoken interaction.
Tay says there is video evidence of the transaction and the Alamo agent did not inquire about his car insurance status to offer insurance accordingly to mitigate future finance charges.
What Alamo has to say
Let’s take a look at Tay’s reservation. Under “key facts” we find the following disclaimer:
Note – Unless you purchase a waiver or protection product or a product is included in your booking as specified below, to the extent permitted by law applicable to your rental agreement, you are liable to the rental company in the event of theft or any damage to the vehicle throughout the duration of your vehicle rental.
For rentals in most countries, you will be liable even if the accident is not your fault. If you are at fault, your liability includes loss of revenue if the vehicle cannot be rented because it is damaged or stolen, reasonable claims administration costs, decrease in value and all towing costs, storage or impoundment of the vehicle.
Third party liability protection is included with your booking unless you have booked using an account number and third party liability protection is specifically excluded via the associated corporate account agreement.
While digging deeper into coverage options, our advocacy team discovered that the type of liability protection they had, mandated by the State of California, was probably not what they thought.
California: minimum liability coverage
California requires minimum liability coverage for each rental, but only provides the following:
- $15,000 for the injury or death of a person (other driver, passenger, pedestrian, etc.) in an accident you cause
- $30,000 for the injury or death of more than one person in an accident you cause
- $5,000 for property damage in an accident you cause.
The gold-plated blanket she needed for this accident is called Extended Protection.
Purchasing Extended Protection (EP) is optional and not mandatory to rent a vehicle.
The optional EP provides you with minimum financial responsibility limits (at no cost to you) as set forth in the applicable motor vehicle financial responsibility laws of the state where the vehicle is operated AND the excess insurance provided by the insurance policy. This provides you and any authorized driver with third party liability protection with a single combined limit per accident equal to the difference between the minimum financial liability limits referenced above. and a single combined limit of $1,000,000 per accident.
(Emphasis mine. I also edited the clause for brevity.)
So, did she have insurance or not?
Alamo claims to have rented a vehicle from Tay without extended coverage. A look at its confirmation suggests that it is correct. She should have agreed to purchase additional coverage at the San Francisco airport. Alamo did not offer additional insurance to Tay.
Tay says she was led to believe she had adequate civil liability. In fact, California and European law requires civil liability insurance (she booked the car from Paris before leaving for the United States).
My lawyers and I contacted Alamo’s parent company, Enterprise, several times. Finally, Tay received his final answer:
I’m Alamo Rent A Car’s Regional Manager for San Francisco Airport. I have reviewed the assertion that you stated that civil liability was never offered to you.
Unfortunately, I cannot verify the conversation between you and the agent at the time of rental. I can only go from the signed contract and your reservation which was for Alamo.
After contract review [you had] no Civil Liability taken out at the time of rental.
Based on the research and the signed contract disclaiming liability coverage, you will be liable for any damages to a third party. Attached is your signed copy of the rental agreement.
So that’s the final answer. Alamo did not insure Tay.
There’s a small chance she’s still covered by her credit card travel insurance or car insurance. But that’s unlikely.
What to remember about having a car rental accident without insurance
That’s lesson number one in journalism school: don’t assume. Tay connected one dot too many with her liability coverage, then relied on flimsy state law to care for her after her accident. I can’t blame her for trying.
Alamo bears some of the blame for this. Her agent should have carefully explained what the company covered and didn’t cover on her rental. It should have happened before she drove the car at sunset. He could have answered her questions more clearly and more quickly instead of handing her a bill and letting her figure it out for herself.
So what does this mean for your next rental? Make sure you have coverage. I repeat: Make sure you have a blanket.
Whether you buy a comprehensive travel insurance policy or opt for single insurance from a company like InsureMyRentalCar.com, please, please make sure you have something. Otherwise, you could end up in an accident – and $15,000 less.