As a Missouri defective automobile attorney, I was pleased to see reports that the federal Department of Transportation is looking into allegations about unsafe rental cars. As the Detroit News reported Nov. 23, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating how quickly car rental companies make repairs to vehicles in their fleets that are subject to recalls. The agency said it was acting in response to allegations that people have suffered injuries or deaths because rental car companies failed to pull recalled vehicles off the road. There has already been one high-profile case fitting that description, in which two young women died after their vehicle caught fire on a California highway. Their mother co-founded an auto safety group that has asked the FTC to require repairs before rental cars go back on the road.
The California case involved sisters Jacqueline and Raechel Houck, ages 20 and 24. They died in 2004 after the Chrysler PT Cruiser they had rented caught fire on the road, causing them to hit a tractor-trailer. Later, it was discovered that the PT Cruiser had been recalled for exactly this problem — a risk of catching fire under the hood. Their parents sued Enterprise Rent-A-Car for renting the young women a car that was recalled because of the possibility of catching fire while in use. In fact, the family claims Enterprise rented the car at least four times after receiving the recall notice. After fighting the lawsuit for five years, Enterprise settled this summer for $15 million. A spokesperson for the car rental industry said no law requires companies to repair recalled vehicles before they go back on the road, but that most companies pull recalled cars from their fleets.
I hope the NHTSA investigation confirms that statement. But as a St. Louis auto defect lawyer, I believe the financial incentives at play here work against safety, not for it. Car rental companies only have so many vehicles, and when they place vehicles out of service, they can serve fewer customers. That leads to less money, of course. As a result, the companies have an incentive to keep as many cars on the road as possible. Even when the risk of a lawsuit is taken into account, some managers may judge that the risk of an accident is less desirable than the near-certainty of not making money while the vehicle is grounded. This policy makes sense if your only goal is to make money — but it’s an unacceptable safety risk for rental car customers and the people they happen to pass on the road.
My firm, Carey, Danis & Lowe, has a special practice in defective vehicles and other defective products. Under the laws of Missouri, Illinois and every other state, manufacturers of any product sold directly to the public have a legal obligation to make sure their products are safe. That includes automakers, as Toyota found out last year. When they fail to produce safe products, or fail to warn consumers about a safety risk, they can be held responsible for their actions with a lawsuit. Our southern Illinois defective car attorneys represent clients who are pursing this type of claim after a serious injury or the loss of a loved one in a crash. In addition to holding companies responsible for the harm their products have caused, these claims can help families secure money they need for costs like medical or long-term care bills, lost income and more.
If you’ve been in a serious accident that you believe was caused by defects in the motor vehicle, don’t wait before calling Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. To learn more or set up a free consultation, send us a message online or call 1-877-678-3400 toll-free.