Earlier this year, our auto products liability law firm wrote about efforts by the California Assembly to prevent Hertz, Enterprise, Avis, and other car rental companies from selling or renting motor vehicles that had been recalled unless the necessary repairs were already made. The bill was introduced after Raechel and Jacqueline Houck died in a car crash because their PT cruiser rental had a power steering defect that increased the risk of an engine fire occurring. Raechel, 24, lost control of the vehicle, which then collided with a semi-truck on the 101 Freeway and burst into flames. A jury later awarded the family $15 million in their auto products liability lawsuit against Enterprise.
The bill, AB753, passed the General Assembly and will be voted on by the California senate. Meantime, this safety issue involving car rental companies and recalled vehicles has gone national.
Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) recently introduced in the US Senate the “Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2011,” which also bars unrepaired, recalled vehicles from being rented or sold to consumers. If this legislation passes, state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission would enforce the provisions.
Both bills would close a loophole that currently lets vehicle rental companies rent or sell unrepaired recalled vehicles without breaking any laws–unlike auto dealers who cannot sell a recalled vehicle unless the safety issue has been fixed. Also, under Schumer’s new measure, the NHTSA would have to execute two studies.
One study would look into claims that there are auto rental companies that are purposely ordering new vehicles without certain safety features, such as side air bags. Buyers and renters were reportedly not notified that these types of orders were made. The other study would look at rental companies’ sales practices between when the NHTSA announces an auto recall and when the company is officially notified that a recall was issued. Right now, there are more than 1.6 million rental cars available for use in the US.
Meantime, the car rental industry is fighting these lawmakers’ measures. Opponents of the bills say that incidents of recalled autos being rented out before the safety issue is fixed are “infrequent” and that some auto defects are not serious enough to require their immediate repair.
Considering that even a seemingly minor safety issue can cause a catastrophic car crash, this perspective is surprising. One need only look at the number of people who die every year because a vehicle malfunctioned or a safety defect either caused a collision or failed to protect the vehicle occupant during a crash.
Contact our auto products liability law firm today.