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Attorney Todd E. Copeland Sounds Off on Rental Car Insurance Legal Loophole in Miami Herald
Orlando personal injury attorney Todd E. Copeland recently penned an editorial setting the record straight on insurance for rental cars and urging Florida legislators to correct an egregious error that puts Floridians at risk every day.
Throughout 2013, some 94.7 million visitors traveled to Florida, considered among the world's top tourist destinations. It's safe to say that the majority of them likely make use of rental cars while they're enjoying their time in the Sunshine State. Therein lies a daily danger to Florida residents.
That's because many travelers routinely opt out of the insurance offered on rental cars, assuming that their personal car insurance covers them, or that the rental car provider ultimately is responsible for damages should an accident occur. Trouble is, that assumption is wrong.
"Floridians are required to carry insurance to operate a motor vehicle. Taxis also must insure and assume liability in the event of an accident. In addition, trucking companies must insure their drivers and vehicles if they want to operate in Florida," Copeland wrote. "Only one industry has been able to avoid responsibility to the public...and it’s letting visitors injure, maim, and kill Floridians."
In the editorial, Copeland illustrated the issue with the story Anthoney Belfon, a 30-year-old husband, father and small business owner who had been happily living the American Dream. That all changed in August of 2008, when a rental car bolted in from a parking lot into the path of Belfon's vehicle, causing a devastating crash. The force of the impact crushed Belfon's leg, requiring an amputation above the knee.
The driver of the rental car was from New Jersey and lacked a valid driver’s license, which meant he also lacked valid insurance. Plus, the car actually had been rented and loaned to the driver by a relative who declined the insurance offered through the rental company.
So how is it that one can rent a vehicle in Florida without providing proof of insurance? The answer lies in the Graves Amendment, which states the following:
"An owner of a motor vehicle that rents or leases the vehicle to a person shall not be liable under the law of any State or political subdivision thereof, by reason of being the owner of the vehicle for harm to persons or property that results or arises out of the use, operation, or possession of the vehicle during the period of the rental or lease, if...the owner is engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles."
This means that car rental companies are virtually free of liability should an accident happen while it's on the road with a renter. As of yet, Florida has done little to address the issue. But that soon may change. Rep. Frank Artiles and Sen. Anitere Flores recently introduced bills HB 819 and SB 976. These bills hold that rental companies should be treated like every other owner of a vehicle in Florida and, if passed, would mandate that car rental companies require out-of-state renters to purchase insurance in order to be free of legal liability in the case of an accident.
"Insurance should exist for people like Toney Belfon — a man who never used government or lawyers as a crutch," Copeland wrote. "Today, however, Belfon literally cannot afford the proper prosthetic leg and gets through the day in a pair of beat up crutches. An irony that only Legislators can fix, if they would only choose leveling the playing field over lobbyists."
If you are injured in an accident involving a rented vehicle, make sure that you get fair compensation for your injuries and losses. Call 407-999-8995 to speak with an experienced auto accident attorney with Orlando's Todd E. Copeland & Associates today.
Read Copeland's entire editorial here.