Got in a car accident two years; car rental, uninsured. Complicated situation, car rental company wants $35K from me. What to do?
posted by anonymous to law & government (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
When I rented a car in California two years ago, I got in an accident with another vehicle. To keep it simple and sweet, I came to a full stop at a 3-way intersection stop sign (a small road going into a main street). I looked both ways to make sure no incoming traffic was coming, then made a left turn. Out of the blue, a SUV/van came barreling into me. Luckily (very), the van hit the back door on the driver's side... barely avoiding hitting me directly. The damage to my car rental was pretty bad, although not too bad. I wasn't physically harmed, just shaken up and had a few minor bruises. The back door was totaled, and a tire blew out, I believe. The car had to be towed away to the local car rental office, where I did an exchange. The SUV sustained very little damage, other than the front bumper being bent.
I got legal representation (gratis) through my father's friend, who helped me dissect the situation and contacted the necessary people. The couple on the other end of the accident were claiming serious injuries and damage to their car, and my lawyer helped make the necessary communication. Time passed, and after about 2 months after the accident, I stopped hearing from everyone involved (the car rental claims representative and my lawyer). My lawyer instructed me to contact him if any followup information or contact was initiated. Well, more than 1 1/2 years passed until I got a letter from the car rental company, asking for $35,000 ($15 thousand each for injuries; $5 thousand for the car damage done to the other SUV). My lawyer wrote a letter on my behalf, and the car rental company insisted that I pay in full or they would pursue further collection. I drafted an email to my lawyer, explaining my points and why I felt the whole situation was not working in my favor, and he bailed out. He said he felt the situation was no longer in his area of expertise, so now I'm on my own.
Some facts to clarify the situation:
a. I had a Loss Damage Waiver on my rental, which allowed me peace of mind if any damage was done to my car. Obviously, the car being damaged resulted in a loss, and I was not held responsible for this.
b. I did not select the added liability insurance at the time; nor did I have any car insurance of my own. I did not select this, because the signage was not clear that California was exempted from being protected by the state minimums. All other states have minimums and require car rental companies to cover up to the state minimum, but California did not. That means I am on my own here in California. At the time, on the website (and still is), I was given the impression that California was covered. I want so badly to share the link, believe me, but I do not want this to be used against me, so I have to refrain from using the car rental company's name and thus providing a link to their website, but it is a major rental company, one of the top ones actually.
c. I am Deaf, which obviously is not an excuse of any kind. However, I was not verbally communicated my opinions to be insured, and if California did not require any mandatory minimum coverage, they should have communicated that to me. Signage was present, but nothing that could be seen that clearly stated California was not covered for liability insurance. Therefore, I believe the burden lies on the car rental company in this situation, due to the miscommunication. I understand it takes time to communicate with a Deaf customer, but again, the burden is on them to ensure customers are clear about their options, regardless of any disabilities.
d. The police report states that the couple involved refused medical at the scene. They, in fact, drove away. One of the two persons involved on the other end of the accident claimed a hurt arm, but the other person claimed no injuries. It's right there on the police report.
So, at this point, the car rental claims/collections department wants $35,000, which is IMPOSSIBLE for me to pay, and my (now former) lawyer's letter asking them to forgo collecting any money from me and explaining my disability did not do any good. Now that I am not represented anymore, and I have no assets (already explained to the car rental company), I have no idea what to do. I do not have income, and this whole situation rubs me the wrong way. I understand accepting responsibility, but in this situation, I really feel I have been backed up in a corner with no recourse.
I'm hoping to get some advice on how to move forward, along with insights. I know the obvious advice is to get legal representation, which I am considering doing, but it is expensive and would provide a difficulty for me. I also am living in the East coast in addition to having family in the West coast where I visit, so the whole situation is complicated. (My former lawyer is based where my family lives, and the accident, obviously, happened in California.) I am thinking of pushing the issue up to the management of the car rental company, or even contacting a consumer advocate, as it is bad PR for a car rental company to try and take $35,000 from a Deaf customer who was misled about his situation and his options.
I also wanted to clarify that I do not expect legal advice, and any advice offered here will not be constructed by me as legal advice, so feel free to give any advice you can without worrying about me "taking it the wrong way."
This has been really hard for me, and I hope to get some good solid advice other than getting legal representation. I hope my ideas are good as well.
Thanks for your time!