Rental car accident in Florida are very common because of the large number of vehicles rented for both business and pleasure every year. The personal injury laws in Florida for collisions that are caused by drivers of rental and leased cars are designed to protect the insurance companies and car rental agencies–not the injured.
I am not just a personal injury lawyer in Miami; I also own a small business, which is my law firm. And like many other business owners who rent cars or trucks for their employees for business use, I too have, on occasion, rented cars for my lawyers who travel across the State of Florida for depositions, hearings, and trials.
What happens when an employee allows other people to drive the rental vehicle and they get into a traffic accident?
This scenario occurs frequently: An employer rents a car for the use of its employee for a business purpose, and for one reason or another the employee gives the keys of the vehicle to a spouse, friend, or other family member, who gets into a rental car accident.
Recently, a Florida business, Bell Partners, was sued after a car it had rented for one of its employees collided with another car, causing serious personal injuries to Keith and Jacqueline Adams.
Bell Partners frequently rent cars from Hertz to be used by their employees and have a written travel policy that prohibits the use of rental vehicles by non-employees. Bell Partners own and manage nursing homes across Florida and Georgia. On this occasion, they had rented a car for their employee, Ms. Rosalyn Watson, who has worked for them for many years, frequently driving across Florida to inspect their facilities.
She has on several occasions traveled with her husband, Anthony Watson, for work. It was apparently known by Mrs. Watson’s supervisor at Bell Partners that her husband would drive the rented cars, contrary to the a corporate policy forbidding the use of rented cars by anyone other than an employee. In fact, the car involved in this accident had Mr. Watson listed on the rental policy as a permitted driver.
The Adamses sued Bell Partners, claiming the company was responsible for the accident since the car was rented in its name. Bell’s insurance company denied coverage, claiming that Mr. Watson was not permitted to drive the car and therefore, since he was an unauthorized user, it should not have to pay out any money.
The Fort Lauderdale, Florida trial judge, the Honorable Carol Lisa Phillips, agreed with the insurance company and dismissed the case. She relied in part on a last-minute memorandum submitted to her that claimed two additional grounds for dismissal, beyond the company’s not having given Mr. Watson permission to use the car: 1) that Bell did not own the title of the car and 2) Bell did not have possession of the car at the time of the accident.
Judge Phillips apparently relied on the fact that the car was driven without Bell’s permission and considered the two points raised in the additional memorandum of law and dismissed the case on summary judgment. In other words, she kicked the case out of court before it was ever presented to a jury.
The Adamses appealed Judge Philips’s dismissal of their case against Bell to Florida’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. The appellate court reversed Judge Phillips on the basis that the question of whether or not Mr. Watson’s use of the car was unauthorized is one that should be answered by a jury, not a judge.
We wish the Adamses a speedy recovery and good luck in front of the Broward County jury. Read the Fourth’s entire opinion in Adams v. Bell Partners, Inc. here.
Should employers rent cars for their employees?
This case serves as an important lesson for both employees and employers who use rental cars for work: Always have a clear and understandable policy about the use of rental cars by non-employees. Have them as well as their supervisors sign the agreement prior to allowing them to rent a car to be used for a business purpose.
Our Broward county personal injury law firm has battled insurance companies and corporations on behalf of people injured in car, truck, motorcycle, and bicycle accidents across the State of Florida for nearly 25 years.
If you have been involved in a traffic accident and have questions, email or call me, Spencer Aronfeld, toll free at 1-866-597-4529 today for a free legal consultation. I am Board-Certified by the Florida Bar as a specialist in Civil Trials. Let my experience and dedication help you and your family get the full compensation you deserve for lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering.