Rental cars are now safer in the U.S., thanks to a new federal law that went into effect June 1 that no prohibits any rental car company or dealer with 35 vehicle or more from renting out recalled vehicles that haven’t been repaired.
The legislative action was named for and championed by the family of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, sisters, 20 and 24, killed in a fiery crash in 2004 when their rental car burst into flames after a striking a semi-truck following an apparent steering hose leak. The vehicle had been recalled for this very same reason prior to the crash, but the rental car company nonetheless continued to rent out the car. In fact, the company rented out the car four times since the recall, the Houck sisters being the fourth.
At the wrongful death lawsuit trial brought by their parents, a manager for the shop in California that rented the car testified that the corporate philosophy of the rental car company was always to “keep booking,” because there was never any assurance of when the vehicle might be returned. But then the company would run short on vehicles. If all that were left in the lot were recalled vehicles, managers were instructed to rent those out too.
“It was a given,” he testified, even when the rental car company was aware of a recall via a “priority alert” that appeared on screen at rental officers.
Now, it is no longer a given with this amendment to the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015.
The new law, as explained by officials with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), will ensure that when a family picks up a car for rental on vacation, they have every right to expect it is free from any known safety defect. The law also extends the NHTSA’s recall powers to cover rental car companies, something it did not have in the past. That gives the agency the authority to investigate reported violations of the statute and to punish those who break the rules.
First introduced in 2011, Congress took many passes before finally making it law last year. President Obama signed it into law in December and it’s now formally in effect.
It’s imperative that every vehicle that is recalled — new, used, rented or leased — gets repaired quickly. Rental car companies often operate enormous fleets. Our Miami car accident lawyers know the actions of these large companies affect not only the safety and well-being of their customers, but also of everyone else who shares the road with them.
To give you an example of the scope of the problem, just in 2014 alone, there were almost 900 automotive recalls that affected more than 50 million vehicles in the U.S.
As for the Houck’s wrongful death lawsuit, it was an arduous legal battle, but the company ultimately conceded it had been negligent and agreed to pay a $15 million settlement.
When their mother started advocating for the passage of the FAST Act provision, she initiated a Change.org petition that pressed Enterprise (the defendant in the Houck lawsuit) to forego its opposition to the rental car act. That petition collected more than 100,000 signatures. Ultimately, Enterprise, Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty and National all agreed not to rent out any recall cars. Now, they don’t have a choice.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Years after tragedy, mother claims victory in new rental car protections, June 1, 2016, By Randy Kreider, ABC News
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