As a Missouri car crash attorney, I have been carefully following the news about Toyota and other carmakers that have recalled their vehicles for serious safety defects. Given the lawsuits mounting against Toyota, I was dismayed to see recent articles reporting that rental car companies are not required to fix recalled safety defects in their cars before renting them out. Despite being ordered to pay $15 million in a recent lawsuit involving two deaths, Enterprise Rent-A-Car has said that it may not immediately fix cars whose recalls it does not regard as pressing.
This isn’t the first time Enterprise has been in the news for cutting corners on customer safety. Last year, Enterprise was discovered to have ordered about 66,000 Chevy Impalas without their standard side airbags in order to save money. Then the company advertised the cars for sale as if they did have the airbags, misleading customers who expected that the cars had all their standard safety features. The more recent defective rental car issue gained attention from a tragic case involving the deaths of two sisters. Jacqueline Houck, 20, and her sister, Raechel, 24, rented a Chrysler PT Cruiser from a California Enterprise Rent-A-Car in 2004 so that they could visit family near Los Angeles. The PT Cruiser had been recalled a month before the crash because of a broken power steering hose that posed a fire hazard. While the Houck sisters were driving, a fire broke out under the hood. They lost control of the car, hit a semi-trailer and died.
Consumer advocates including the Houck sisters’ mother, Carol Houck, have petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to forbid rental car companies from continuing to rent out defective cars. They have said it’s deceptive to rent out a car that customers should be able to assume is safe, when the company knows that there are recalls associated with the car. If someone chooses not to take their personal car in to have a recalled defect repaired right away, they are aware of the car’s defect and have chosen to drive it anyway. But a defective rental car is a different situation. The customer rents a car expecting that they’re paying for the use of a safe, functional vehicle, but only the rental car company knows whether this is really true.
In my view as a St. Louis auto accident attorney, it is disturbing that Enterprise does not see every safety recall as “pressing.” If the defect was serious enough to merit a recall, it should be serious enough to fix before renting the car to a customer who has no reason to think there is anything wrong with it. It’s easy to see why rental car companies don’t want to immediately fix cars when they learn about recalls: money. If they have to pull some of their cars out of circulation when a recall is announced, those cars will not be bringing in rental fees while they’re in the shop. From the company’s perspective, it’s easier and cheaper to pull the cars out of circulation when it’s convenient for the company. But this way of looking at it puts consumer and driver safety at the bottom of the list, which is the opposite of where it belongs. It shouldn’t be up to victims and their families alone to deal with the financial and health consequences of accidents that negligent car rental companies failed to prevent.
Currently, there is no law forcing rental car companies to take vehicles out of circulation when they are the subject of safety recalls. However, rental car companies are subject to the same product liability laws as any other company. If they knowingly subject customers to safety risks without the customers’ knowledge, customers who get hurt can and should make them pay for the harm their negligence caused. The southern Illinois car wreck lawyers at Carey, Danis & Lowe specialize in helping victims pursue this type of case. We help people who have been injured through no fault of their own, or lost a loved one, recover compensation for expenses like medical and funeral costs, pain and suffering, diminished quality of life and relationships, lost past and future wages, and damage to property. For a free consultation in which you can learn about your options and your rights, please call us at 1-877-678-3400 or send us an email through our website.