Generally, a person who drives recklessly and causes a car accident in Florida is legally responsible for the resulting injuries and damages. But what about a car rental company that hands over the keys to a driver who it could have determined was reckless with a little background info? The Third District Court of Appeals explains a car rental agency’s responsibilities in Rivers v. Hertz Corporation.
Mr. Rivers was killed in a tragic Florida car accident while a passenger in a Corvette driven by Mr. Walker. Walker, who was renting the car at the time, was traveling at a high rate of speed and weaving in and out of traffic when the crash occurred, according to a witness who spoke to police soon thereafter. Hertz, the company that rented the car to Walker, did not know at the time that his driver’s license had been suspended due to a speeding ticket in another state. A personal representative filed suit against Hertz for wrongful death, claiming that the company had a duty to inquire about the status of Walker’s license before renting the car.
The complaint was dismissed in a trial court ruling holding that the company’s only legal duty was to inspect Walker’s license to verify his signature. The representative later re-filed, alleging only a general negligence claim. A trial court again dismissed this claim.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Third District found that Hertz did not have a duty to perform a background check into the status of Walker’s driver’s license before renting him the car. The court agreed with the lower court’s ruling that section 322.38, Florida Statutes (2009) required Hertz only to compare Walker’s signature with that on his driver’s license. “Hertz owed a duty of care beyond that imposed by section 322.38 if it knew or should have known some reason why entrusting the vehicle to Walker was foolish or negligent,” the court explained. “If no legal duty exists, there can be no cause of action for negligence.”
Here, the court said the personal representative presented no evidence showing that Hertz knew or should have been aware that Walker’s license was suspended, given that he presented a “facially valid” driver’s license. Because the company had no duty to further investigate and discover that the license was suspended, it was not negligent.
Despite the outcome of this particular case, it is important to keep in mind that a negligent driver may not be the only responsible party in a Florida car accident case. In addition to rental companies, manufacturers, product makers, alcohol servers and other third parties can be liable. If you or a loved one has been injured in a crash, contact the South Florida car accident lawyers at Anidjar & Levine. We represent clients throughout the area, including in Coral Springs, Boca Raton and Pompano Beach, in a wide variety of personal injury claims and we are dedicated to maximizing recovery for those we represent. Call us toll-free at 800-747-3733 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
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