Monday, February 23, 2015

What is a Rental Car Company’s Liability When Their Renter is Involved in a Car Accident?



Las Vegas is an exciting and wonderful city. We live in city that also attracts a lot of visitors. These visitors often rent cars. Given the amount of visitors we regularly have in our city, we have perhaps more rental cars on the road than other average cities.


But, what happens when one of these car rental drivers causes an accident to one of our residents?  What is the car rental company’s liability in this scenario? There are two main statutes and three cases that have come out of the Nevada Supreme Court, that tell us what the rights and responsibilities are for rental car companies in these situations.
 

The first statute is NRS §482.295. This statute requires car rental companies to have insurance before their rental cars hit the road. In these cases, car rental companies are called “lessors”, while the driver’s who rent these cars (via a short term lease), are called the “lessees”:

NRS §482.295.
Registration by short-term lessor: Proof of financial ability to respond to damages. The Department or a registered dealer shall not register a vehicle intended to be leased by a short-term lessor until the owner demonstrates to the Department the owner’s financial ability to respond to damages by providing evidence of insurance as that term is defined in NRS 485.034. 


So, before a car rental company can even register its rental cars, it must show proof of insurance to the DMV.  It’s counterpart, NRS §482.305, provides more information as to what type of insurance coverage the rental company must have, which is $15,000 per person/$30,000 per accident:
 

NRS §482.305.Short-term lessor not providing coverage jointly and severally liable with short-term lessee for certain damages; notice to lessee of extent of coverage; dismissal of action against lessor if coverage provided.

      1.  The short-term lessor of a motor vehicle who permits the short-term lessee to operate the vehicle upon the highways, and who has not complied with NRS 482.295 insuring or otherwise covering the short-term lessee against liability arising out of his or her negligence in the operation of the rented vehicle in limits of not less than $15,000 for any one person injured or killed and $30,000 for any number more than one, injured or killed in any one accident, and against liability of the short-term lessee for property damage in the limit of not less than $10,000 for one accident, is jointly and severally liable with the short-term lessee for any damages caused by the negligence of the latter in operating the vehicle and for any damages caused by the negligence of any person operating the vehicle by or with the permission of the short-term lessee, except that the foregoing provisions do not confer any right of action upon any passenger in the rented vehicle against the short-term lessor. This section does not prevent the introduction as a defense of contributory negligence to the extent to which this defense is allowed in other cases.
      2.  The policy of insurance, surety bond or deposit of cash or securities inures to the benefit of any person operating the vehicle by or with the permission of the short-term lessee in the same manner, under the same conditions and to the same extent as to the short-term lessee.
      3.  The insurance policy, surety bond or deposit of cash or securities need not cover any liability incurred by the short-term lessee of any vehicle to any passenger in the vehicle; but the short-term lessor before delivering the vehicle shall give to the short-term lessee a written notice of the fact that such a policy, bond or deposit does not cover the liability which the short-term lessee may incur on account of his or her negligence in the operation of the vehicle to any passenger in the vehicle.
      4.  When any suit or action is brought against the short-term lessor under this section, the judge before whom the case is pending shall hold a preliminary hearing in the absence of the jury to determine whether the short-term lessor has provided insurance or a surety bond or deposit of cash or securities covering the short-term lessee as required by subsection 1. Whenever it appears that the short-term lessor has provided insurance or a surety bond or deposit of cash or securities covering the short-term lessee in the required amount, the judge shall dismiss as to the short-term lessor the action brought under this section.



Pursuant to NRS §482.305, if the rental car company does in fact have the minimum insurance policy limits, then the judge will dismiss them as an actual party to the case. In addition to these two statutes, there are three main cases that have come out of the Nevada Supreme Court to address these issues. The three cases are Alamo, Salas and Hall


Decided in 1998, the Nevada Supreme Court in Alamo, stated that the at-fault driver’s personal policy provides primary coverage to the injured party. By contrast, the insurance coverage provided by the car rental company is deemed to be "secondary," i.e., excess coverage. Alamo Rent-A-Car v. State Farm, 953 P.2d 1074 (Nev. 1998).  Alamo held that if the at-fault driver did not have their own personal policy covering an accident, then the rental car company "will step in and compensate the victim up to the minimum limits." 


Just two years later, in 2000, the Nevada Supreme Court wrote the Salas opinion.  In Salas, the Court determined that if the at-fault driver had insurance, but it was insufficient to compensate the injured party for their losses, then the rental car company’s insurance would also come into play. Salas v. Allstate Rent-A-Car, 14 P.3d 511 (Nev. 2000).  This is called “dual” or "stacked" coverage. The Salas Court stated that “[s]ound public policy dictates that a short-term lessor of motor vehicles may be required to compensate the victim, at least up to the statutory minimum, in cases where the lessee's personal insurance does not fully compensate the victim(s).”
 

The trilogy of cases ends with Hall.  In Hall, the Nevada Supreme Court clarified the car rental company’s liability. The Court in Hall determined that the separate coverage provided by the rental car company, is based upon the liability of the at-fault driver. Hall v. Enterprise Leasing, 122 Nev. 685, 137 P.3d 1104 (2006). In short, Hall held that Nevada is not a "direct action" state, but rather, allows actions by injured persons against the car rental company’s insurance policy, only after a judgment against the at-fault party has been obtained. 
 

In Hall, the injured party settled with the at-fault driver and then sought to seek additional compensation from the car rental company. The Court did not allow this. Based upon the holding in Hall, the car rental company’s liability arises from the liability of the at-fault driver. So, you CANNOT settle with the at-fault driver, without first seeking and preserving your rights of recovery against the car rental company’s insurance.

Next time, we will discuss the use of social media sites after being involved in a car accident.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Are Criminal Convictions Admissible in Las Vegas Personal Injury Cases?


Sometimes people make mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes result in criminal convictions. If a person has a criminal conviction and they are making personal injury claim, that criminal conviction may be brought up by the at-fault party during trial. The law on this is set forth in NRS §50.095.  NRS §50.095 provides in full:
 

NRS 50.095 Impeachment by evidence of conviction of crime.
 

     1.  For the purpose of attacking the credibility of a witness, evidence that the witness has been convicted of a crime is admissible, but only if the crime was punishable by death or imprisonment for more than 1 year under the law under which the witness was convicted.
 

      2.  Evidence of a conviction is inadmissible under this section if a period of more than 10 years has elapsed since:
      (a) The date of the release of the witness from confinement; or
      (b) The expiration of the period of the witness’s parole, probation or sentence, whichever is the later date.
 

     3.  Evidence of a conviction is inadmissible under this section if the conviction has been the subject of a pardon.
 

      4.  Evidence of juvenile adjudications is inadmissible under this section.
 

      5.  The pendency of an appeal therefrom does not render evidence of a conviction inadmissible. Evidence of the pendency of an appeal is admissible.
 

     6.  A certified copy of a conviction is prima facie evidence of the conviction.
 

According to §50.095, if someone was convicted of crime that resulted in possible punishment of 1 year or more, usually a felony, that criminal conviction comes in at time of trial. There are a few exceptions to this. Juvenile convictions do NOT come in pursuant to §50.095. Also, the conviction must be less than 10 years old, from the time of release from prison or parole, whichever comes later. Some judges also require that a certified copy of the conviction be presented as evidence, before the evidence can come into trial.

Next time, we will discuss the liability of rental car companies when their renter is involved in a car accident.

Monday, February 9, 2015

What is My Liability if I Loan Someone My Car and They Cause a Car Accident in Las Vegas?



In today’s blog we will be discussing what happens if you loan your car out to a friend and they cause a car accident. Whether you are liable for the resulting damages or injuries they cause is determined on a case by case basis. If you loaned your car out to a friend, who had a perfect driving record and gave you no other cause for concern, you will likely not be held liable for the damages they cause.
 


However, if you knew your friend had been in multiple car accidents or was intoxicated when you gave them your keys, you will likely be held financially responsible for their actions. This type of liability, is called “negligent entrustment”.  It essentially means that you were negligent in giving someone else permission to drive your car.
 

To make a successful claim of negligent entrustment, the injured party must allege four elements. Those elements are (1) the owner of the car owed a duty of care to the injured party; (2) the car owner breached that duty of care to the injury party, by knowingly entrusting a vehicle to an inexperienced and/or incompetent person, namely the driver of the vehicle; (3) the above breach was the legal cause of the injuries; and (4) the above negligence resulted in damages to the injured person.
 

So, just because you loan your car out to a friend does not automatically mean you will be held liable for any personal injuries they cause. A court will have to determine if there are any factual grounds to support such a claim.

Next time, we will discuss if criminal convictions are admissible evidence in Las Vegas personal injury trials.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Can a Parent be Held Liable if Their Teenager is Involved in a Car Accident?



Las Vegas has one of the highest accident rates in the western states. If you are a parent and your teenager is preparing to get their driver’s license, you may have more to be concerned about besides their safety on our roads. If you buy your teenager a car and are the legal owner of that car, special responsibilities come with that arrangement.

In Nevada, as a parent owning a car that their teenager is involved in a car accident, means the parent can be held liable for any property damage or personal injuries that their minor child causes. This is called the “Family Purpose Doctrine” and is set forth in NRS 41.440:


LIABILITY OF OWNER OF MOTOR VEHICLE FOR NEGLIGENT OPERATION
BY IMMEDIATE MEMBER OF FAMILY

NRS §41.440. Imposition of liability. Any liability imposed upon a wife, husband, son, daughter, father, mother, brother, sister or other immediate member of a family arising out of his or her driving and operating a motor vehicle with the permission, express or implied, of such owner is hereby imposed upon the owner of the motor vehicle, and such owner shall be jointly and severally liable with his or her wife, husband, son, daughter, father, mother, brother, sister or other immediate member of a family for any damages proximately resulting from such negligence or willful misconduct, and such negligent or willful misconduct shall be imputed to the owner of the motor vehicle for all purposes of civil damages.

Based upon the statute, if your teenager is driving your car, you can be held liable for the damages caused by your teenage driver. 


Next time, we will discuss the liability of a car owner when letting a friend drive their car.