One of the questions that often arises when it comes to car accidents involving moving vans and rental trucks is “who’s actually liable?”
When you think of truck accidents, your mind likely goes to collisions involving big rigs. While 18-wheeler accidents are unfortunately common in the US (with over 418,000 in 2016 alone), other types of commercial trucks can cause substantial amounts of damages as well.
In general, if a moving truck is being driven by the person who rented it, accident victims can only hold that person responsible for their injuries. However, there are circumstances where an injured person may have a claim against the auto manufacturer or rental company (e.g., U-Haul, Penske, Budget, Enterprise, Ryder) for their negligence.
If the driver of a moving truck causes an accident while they were on the job at the time (acting within the course and scope of their employment), the matter can be much more-complicated than simply filing a claim with his or her insurance company.
Liability When it Comes to Rental Truck Accidents
If the driver of a commercial truck caused an accident that left you injured, the first step in determining liability is figuring out who the driver is. If the driver happens to be an employee of the company that owns the vehicle, then the employer may very well be vicariously liable for your injuries under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
However, in many cases involving rental trucks, the driver would not be employed by the rental company. Instead, the driver would be someone with no experience driving a large truck at all. Generally, companies like U-Haul are not responsible for accidents caused by drivers who rent their vehicles. In most cases, you will probably only be able to bring a claim against the at-fault driver’s auto insurance policy — but there are exceptions to this.
If the rental company was clearly negligent in vetting potential drivers, you could potentially hold the company liable for their portion of negligence. For example, if U-Haul rented a truck to a driver who had a history of DUIs or who did not have a valid driver’s license, you may absolutely have a valid negligence claim against U-Haul. Same goes for accidents caused by trucks which were not properly maintained.
Alternatively, if the truck or van itself had a defect which led to an accident or resulted in more-serious injuries, then you could seek compensation directly from the manufacturer through a product liability claim. Consider a situation where the driver was acting responsibly — but the truck’s brakes hadn’t been replaced in years despite heavy use. If the accident was a result of the brakes failing rather than driver negligence, then your only option to recover compensation may be with the rental company. Each case is unique, which is why we recommend speaking to a car accident attorney before you make any decisions regarding your claim.
Which Insurance Company Should I Go Through?
If you’re in an accident involving any kind of large truck, your damages should likely be covered by one of three insurance policies:
- Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI) — First, you or your attorney will need to investigate to determine whether or not the driver purchased supplemental liability coverage from the rental company. This type of insurance is commonly offered by U-Haul and other large rental companies, and is designed to cover accidents with third parties.
- The Driver’s Auto Insurance Policy — Most of the time, you should look to the driver’s personal automobile insurance to cover the damages from the accident. When you buy car insurance, it covers both your vehicle and you as a driver. That means that the driver who rented the truck will have coverage through his or her own car insurance for the accident, potentially on top of any supplemental liability coverage that they may have purchased.
- Uninsured Motorist (UM) or Under-Insured Motorist (UIM) Coverage — If the driver does not have car insurance or their policy does not provide enough money to cover your damages, you or your attorney may be able to file a UM/UIM claim through your own personal auto insurance provider.
The Value of Having an Attorney on Your Side
It’s obvious that accident claims involving rental truck drivers can be quite complex. The burden of proof is unfortunately on you, and recovering the compensation you deserve not only requires that you have a full understanding of how liability applies, but so much more.
While you may be concerned about the cost of hiring a lawyer, understand that these types of cases are always handled on a now-in no-fee basis. The only way your attorney gets paid is if (and when) he or she puts money in your pocket.
Not only will your attorney look out for your best interests, they will handle all communication with the insurance companies while you focus on getting back to your life. Insurance companies have teams of on-staff attorneys working against you. Without legal representation of your own, they simply have no reason to play fair when it comes to your claim.