Florida is one of the top tourist destinations in the U.S. When people come here from all over the world, they rely often rental companies for the necessities, creature comforts and luxuries that make their vacation enjoyable.
Rental cars, rental boats, rental skis, rental apartments – all of these are big businesses here in the Sunshine State. Each owe varying degrees of care to their customers.
Fort Lauderdale injury lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm are committed to fighting for accountability for injuries caused by dangerous rentals.
The degree of care owed will depend on the type of rental and what kind of waiver or insurance agreement you may have signed as part of the deal.Rental Car Injuries
The rental car industry in Florida is booming alongside record tourism numbers in recent years, with total industry revenue nationally up to $27 billion annually.
In South Florida, The Sun-Sentinel reports there were approximately 1.5 million car rentals just from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in a single year. At the Palm Beach International Airport, officials reported 10 percent increase in rental car revenues over the course of five years, topping out at nearly $110 million. At the Miami International Airport, revenue spiked nearly 70 percent over five years, to more than $555 million during that time.
Industry insiders say the rental car industry is poised for even greater growth in the years to come. In fact, the booming rental car industry has been cited as one of the reasons the governor turned down $2.4 billion in federal dollars in 2012 to block a proposed high-speed monorail.
So what responsibilities do rental car companies have? Do the cars they rent out have to be in good condition?
As of June 2016, rental car companies do have a responsibility under the federal Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act not to rent out any vehicles that are the subject of a safety recall until they have been fixed. The law’s namesakes were sisters, 20 and 24, who were killed when their rental car started leaking steering fluid and caught fire before crashing into an oncoming tractor-trailer. It turned out the car had a safety defect and had been recalled, but was still on the lot and available for rental to the public. Enterprise, the defendant in that case, ultimately had to pay $15 million in damages and fiercely opposed the law. However, an online petition that garnered 100,000 signatures prompted the company – and half a dozen others – to drop that opposition and pledge not to rent out any recalled cars.
Still, the law excludes rental car companies that have a fleet of 30 or fewer cars.
A rental car company could be sued for negligent maintenance of a vehicle if it did not keep the car in good working order. Still in general, unless the driver has purchased additional insurance from the car company, his or her own insurance will be the one to provide coverage.
It should be noted that the federal Graves Amendment, 49 U.S. C. 30106, preempts the vicarious liability claims typically allowable for vehicle owners if the owner is a rental car company. That means rental car companies cannot be liable for their customers’ negligent driving resulting in a traffic accident.Rental Boat Injuries
When a person is engaged wholly or partly in the business of renting or chartering boats to another, he or she is considered a boat livery operator. Boat liveries often relinquish total physical control of a vessel to the person renting it.
In many cases boat livery operators (including those who rent out personal watercraft such as Jet Skis and Sea Doos) compel renters to sign a waiver of liability. These are binding contracts that usually say the customer assumes all risk associated with using the watercraft. Courts in Florida will enforce these agreements, but they are generally not seen as being beneficial to public policy. For that reason, if the language of the waiver is in any way ambiguous or fails to outline the true nature of the danger, the courts often will not enforce, opening the door to litigation.
Boat owners and boat liveries have a duty to customers to use reasonable care. That means the company can’t send someone out on the water with a vessel they know is dangerous or defective. It also means the owner has to conduct regular inspections to make sure the boat is safe.
Operators and owners also have a duty to abide by all local and state laws pertaining to boating safety. Failure to do so is evidence of negligence per se.Rental Apartment Injuries
Given the pricy costs of hotels in Florida, many travelers instead opt for a peer-to-peer rental on platforms like Airbnb or VRBO. Web users post a room or house or apartment for rent and travelers book rentals through the site.
This model saves travelers money, but it can pose some tricky liability issues. When a person stays in a hotel, it’s the hotel that would be liable for any premises liability injuries. With a service like Airbnb, it’s not so cut-and-dried.
In many cases, private homeowners’ insurance policies will not pay for injuries suffered by individuals who are renting the site for money. That would mean just the individual homeowner is liable, and that person often doesn’t have enough in assets to cover the damages.
Airbnb’s Terms of Service do assert an assumption of risk clause that says users of the service assume liability. However, it may still be worth it to explore a claim against the company if the injury is serious.
Call the injury attorneys at The Ansara Law Firm at (877) 277-3780 or locally in Broward at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties.