Have you ever rented a vehicle, and assumed your license was verified as being valid? Do you assume that every driver of a rental car has had their driver’s license verified as being valid?
Well, as one mother learned on the worst night of her life, neither of those assumptions, that most of us share, are true! Read the story and legal facts below, and PLEASE sign our petition to begin the process of introducing the “2Step Amendment” to Congress, requiring that all car rental agencies MUST verify the validity of any driver’s license that is presented to them.
The founder of Military Moms of Texas, Tracy LaPorte, received the ultimate parent-feared phone call on 2/1/12, learning that her son, US Army SGT. Adam Huckstep, was killed on his motorcycle just outside his military base in Long County, GA! A woman pulled out in front of him! He was thrown off his bike and died on the scene! The woman failed to yield the right of way, while driving a rental car, with a suspended license! He was days away from deploying again to fight for our freedoms!
The Adam Huckstep Memorial Fund has been set up to honor Adam. There are many purposes for this fund, and none of them involve the family receiving any of the money! Instead, they are working toward many goals to find a positive outcome from this awful tragedy. The first purpose of the memorial fund is to enact the “2Step Amendment”. In honor of Adam “2Step”, as known by family and friends, help us move along the “2Step Amendment” which will require that all car rental agencies must process driver’s licenses through a DPS system to check validity. As of now, a person only needs to show a “facially valid license” to qualify for a rental car, but their license could be revoked or suspended and they just haven’t turned it in to their state.
On AutoRentalNews.com, there is an article dated January / February, 2012, and written by Wesley Hurst, an attorney in Los Angeles with substantial experience in rental car company litigation and representation. The article is titled,
“Investigating the Renter: Are you Responsible for Verifying Licenses with the DMV?”
Hurst’s article is written directly to the Car Rental industry, explaining their CURRENT rights and responsibilities toward investigating the renter. In the excerpt below, the current laws are outlined, along with many case outcomes after an accident has occurred involving the fault of a driver who rented a car with a questionable driving record, and / or a suspended license.
The facts in the article below, are the basis for exactly the laws we want changed!! PLEASE READ:
Investigation of the Renter
As with many areas of the law, technological developments can create issues for the courts. In this regard, there are services that provide — with various limits — some level of electronic access to state DMV records.
Whether these advances alter the basic issue of whether there is a duty to conduct an investigation, and then presumably an independent assessment of the driver’s record, has been addressed by some courts. As noted, these cases arise in the context of a renter with a poor driving record or a suspended license.
Valid License with Poor Driving Record
With respect to a renter with a valid driver’s license but with a checkered driving record, a 2010 California appellate court decision confirmed that a rental car company does not in fact have an obligation to investigate the prospective renter’s driving record.
The case, Flores v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co., confirmed that a car rental company can exercise its own independent guidelines as to whether a driver should be allowed to rent a car. This ruling still holds true even with the claimed availability of services that provide electronic reports on the renter’s DMV record.
Moreover, a California appellate court decision in the 1988 case of Osborn v. Hertz Corp. noted that when a state determines a driver can continue to hold a license, it is not for a rental car company to impose a different standard for the rental of a vehicle. In other words, if the DMV says someone can drive, why should a rental car company have to conduct its own assessment?
Facially Valid but Suspended License
Renting a car to a customer who gives a facially valid but suspended license presents a somewhat different issue.
Most states provide the steps that a rental car company needs to follow in completing a rental. Generally, such as in California, Nevada and Mississippi, the rental car company must visually inspect the renter’s license, compare the signature on the license to that of the customer at the counter and, finally, must keep some record of the transaction.
The challenge, of course, is when customers do not disclose the fact that although they are presenting a facially valid license, the license has in fact been suspended by their state’s DMV. In this scenario, is the rental car company obligated to conduct some further investigation beyond what is outlined by the state’s statute?
A federal district court in California in 2005 touched on this issue. In Snyder v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, a claim involving a driver that rented a car with a facially valid but suspended license, the court — in an attempt to construe the California Vehicle Code — concluded that even though the rental car company had complied with the applicable statute, plaintiffs were entitled to a presumption of negligence because the license was in fact suspended.
Although not explicit, the court seemed to conclude that by only following the statute — without further action — subjected the rental car company to a rebuttable claim of negligence, if the renter in fact had a suspended license. The consequences of such a rule could be dramatic: It is in essence, an obligation imposed by a court, rather than the legislature, onto the rental car company for it to conduct an independent investigation on the status of a license beyond the state’s requirement.
The following year, however, the California Supreme Court in a somewhat different context concluded otherwise. In Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Co. v. Montes-Harris, the renter presented a facially valid Arizona driver’s license and purchased supplemental liability insurance. However, the renter’s license had been suspended by his state.
The renter was involved in a car accident, causing injuries to a number of people, and a lawsuit was filed. The insurance company providing the supplemental insurance, Philadelphia Indemnity, filed a separate lawsuit seeking to invalidate the policy because, it argued, the renter misrepresented that he was licensed.
The issue in Philadelphia Indemnity’s lawsuit was whether the insurer had a duty to investigate promptly the details of the transaction and the background of the insured. The insurer argued that it did not have a separate duty to investigate the background and status of the renter in the context of rental car transactions.
The parties injured by the renter argued that the insurer had a duty to investigate promptly, and by failing to do so, the insurer was not entitled to try to invalidate the insurance policy. The California Supreme Court concluded that if a renter presents a facially valid driver’s license and is verified pursuant to the state’s applicable vehicle code, the excess insurer has no obligation to conduct a further inquiry regarding the status or validity of the renter’s driver’s license.
As well, the Supreme Court said that the rental car company was considered “in compliance” with the state’s driver’s license verification process for the transaction. The Supreme Court went on to note that because the California Legislature does not require DMV license checks or other specific investigation, the court would not impose such an obligation on excess insurers — which could potentially be extended and applied to rental car companies as well.
Other states agree there is no duty to investigate. A Mississippi court found in 2007 that a rental car company had no duty to investigate the validity/suspension status of a customer’s license in the case of Cousin v. Enterprise Leasing Co.-South Central Inc. The court stated that the Mississippi Legislature could require more detailed license checking, but does not.
Similarly, a Massachusetts court found in 2005 that despite plaintiff’s allegations of the availability of technology to verify licenses in the case of Nunez v. A & M Rentals Inc., no license verification was required beyond viewing a facially valid license because the Legislature had chosen not to speak on the issue.
Even with the development of electronic access to records, for the most part, courts are not imposing a duty on rental car companies to conduct an independent investigation on their customers.
NOTE: We have verified all facts in this story, and had actually found most of the cases cited in the article, before finding this article. We just feel this article spells out our reason for needing these laws changed.
PLEASE help us honor Adam “2Step” Huckstep-LaPorte by signing this petition, and passing it along! We need a minimum of 5000 signatures to gain the attention of those who could change these laws. Sharing this petition is key to achieving the first step in enacting the “2Step Amendment”, and making our roads safer! Our goal through this petition is to gain the attention of a politician who will sponsor this amendment and present it to Congress, in Adam’s memory!