What does "primary liability protection" really mean?
January 12, 2009 9:57 PM   Subscribe

Scratched another car while I was driving a rental car. I don't have auto insurance and I didn't take out liability protection from the rental agency. They had previously said that they cover "minimum liability" automatically at no cost. Now they claim otherwise. Help!

While driving a rental car yesterday, I managed to scratch the rear bumper of the rather expensive car in front of me. :(

I do not have auto insurance. I did not take out any coverage option offered by the rental agency. This was partly because when I was renting the car, the lady at the counter told me that they cover minimum third party liability automatically at no cost.

After the accident, I confirmed this on their website, which states: "Upon signing the Rental Agreement, [Rental Agency] provides primary liability protection. However, such protection is generally no more than the minimum limits required by individual state law." According to my state's law, the minimum limit is $5000 for property damage.

When I called Rental Agency after the accident, they told me that they would not in fact pay for the damages to the other driver's car. They explained that the "primary liability protection" exists for their purposes (e.g. if I flee the country and they can't get money from me to pay the other driver's insurance company, they could get the money from the state).

This sounds bogus to me, and I am desperate to know what "primary liability protection" really means. Is Rental Agency trying to lie to me when they should actually cover the third party damage?
posted by nemutdero to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Did you pay for it with a credit card? Check with them to see if any kind of automatic insurance is included in car rentals.
posted by veggieboy at 10:05 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, I did pay for it with a credit card, having verified beforehand that the card would cover damages to the rental car itself. It unfortunately doesn't cover third party liability though.
posted by nemutdero at 10:10 PM on January 12, 2009

Best answer: "Primary" means that they are the first entity that would be held accountable for money owed to the driver of the damaged vehicle. Seems to me that they are outright lying to you.

Also, this should be something that the insurance company for the vehicle you damaged is handling, not you--they'll come after you for the fees only if the rental car agency refuses to pay. Is there any mention of a deductible?
posted by halogen at 10:47 PM on January 12, 2009

Do not offer anything, and stop talking to the rental agency right now. Dollars to donuts you are never contacted again. Don't let them scare you into paying this - they will take care of it unless they can talk you into it instead.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:07 PM on January 12, 2009

Response by poster: The insurance company for the car I hit called me today asking for a claim number. Since the rental agency said they won't pay, but the insurance company seems to want a claim number from a claim I'm supposed to file with the rental agency, I'm rather at a loss.

I should mention perhaps that the rental agency is Hertz, not some shady neighborhood place. I talked to the clerks at the branch where I picked the car up from as well as the clerk at the branch where I dropped the car off at -- I haven't tried calling Hertz customer service yet.
posted by nemutdero at 12:47 AM on January 13, 2009

Best answer: call the rental agency and find out who is their insurance carrier, call said carrier and speak to claims dept and that you would like to file a claim, get claim #, then you are off and running, be set for many weeks, months or years of back and forth calls faxes and hassles.
posted by kanemano at 1:04 AM on January 13, 2009

The most crucial question has not yet been asked: in which state did you rent the car? These are local law issues that vary widely.
posted by yclipse at 4:53 AM on January 13, 2009

Best answer: Why don't you just contact the insurance company that is claiming, explain that the Hire Compny are giving you the run around and give them the local office number you rented from:

"Sorry, but I have checked with the rental company and I had insurance with them to cover an eventuality as this*, so can you please deal with them in future? I've tried to get the information you want, but they are giving me the run around, and trying to fob me off. I think we'd all get this sorted sooner if you (as someone who knows the insurance industry better than me) were talking to them.

Being as this is all Hertz's insurance responsibility, I really don't have any authority to deal with this any further. Thanks".

*it certainly sounds to me like you did, but I'd say this anyway and claim (if questioned later) "that was my understanding as it was explained to me when I hired the car". So if they're lying, it won't work with another insurance company. And 'third party liability' says to me "the person you hit". They just don't want to claim at all, because that affects their premiums, same as anyone else.
posted by Brockles at 5:02 AM on January 13, 2009

do you have a personal vehicle that is insured? If so, the rental car may be covered under your personal insurance. Check with your agent if you have coverage. Last resort, they can pay and then have their lawyers subrogate against Hertz to get the money back.
posted by domino at 9:00 AM on January 13, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Brockles - that sounds like a good idea. I'll try that after I try talking to Hertz's claims department and if they refuse to pay up.

I called the Hertz reservations line today, pretending I wanted to rent a car out and asking about the liability protection policy (including all relevant details such as state, lack of auto insurance, plan not to take out any extra liability coverage, etc). The lady I talked to said with great confidence and seeming competence that it was indeed true that they would pay for third party damages up to the specified state limit. I am now convinced that the people at the branch locations were trying to lie to me (or they were clueless, which is hard to believe).

I will post an update later; perhaps someone might benefit from knowing about minimum liability coverage by rental agencies.
posted by nemutdero at 10:20 PM on January 13, 2009

Response by poster: Happy ending: I called the Hertz claims department and after a little bit of initial resistance ("no we don't cover liability in such cases, but hang on let me check.. oh but in fact we do, let me transfer you to the proper department") they gave me a claim number and said they'll communicate with the other car's insurance company and take care of it. While I'm relieved, I'm still a bit shocked at the blatant lies (or ineptitude) of the managers/clerks at the branch locations.

Moral of the story: 1) Don't believe what clerks or even managers at branch locations of car rental agencies tell you. Instead, if something seems fishy, talk to the main customer service line (multiple times in case you were unlucky the first time and talked to someone incompetent). 2) Rental agencies are required by law to provide liability coverage up to the state limit, so all of them should provide minimum liability protection (whether primary or secondary depends on the agency and the state). So if you don't have any personal insurance (auto, credit card, etc) that covers liability, the rental agency becomes the primary insurance and they should cover liability up to a certain amount. This does not seem to be well known, as none of my friends or family knew about it.
posted by nemutdero at 3:16 PM on January 17, 2009

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