Sunday, March 22, 2015
Crash test: Does driver deserve reimbursement for rental car costs?
"Thank goodness no one was hurt," was the first thing a reader said after reporting that her car was one of four vehicles hit by an oil truck earlier this month.
She learned of the accident after leaving work in the evening to walk to her car, parked on a city street. The car was gone. When she returning to the office, a receptionist told her about the accident. There were plenty of witnesses, so there was no question about who was at fault. No one was in any of the four cars when the oil truck slammed into them, causing varying levels of damage.
Instead of heading home, the reader walked to the closest police precinct to see where her car had been towed. Since it was after hours, she couldn't call her insurance company or local body shop until the following day. Police told her where her car had been taken, but their report wasn't ready yet, so she had to return for it the next day.
Because the reader's car had been hit by another insured vehicle, that vehicle's owner would be responsible for covering all the damage. Her insurance agent and body shop worker helped the reader figure out how to get the car from the tow lot to the body shop so it could be assessed and repaired. The body owner helped her arrange for a rental car.
The reader's insurance company agreed to cover up to $25 a day for a rental car. The rental company indicated this was adequate, but the reader later learned that the coverage would fall short by about $3 a day. Since her damaged car would be out of commission for 2-3 weeks, she would end paying between $50 and $75 out of pocket for the rental.
This was not a bad price for a rental car for that long, the reader figured, but then wondered why she should have to pay anything, given that the accident was not her fault. The oil truck company will be responsible for damage it caused, and because the reader wasn't at fault, she wouldn't have to pay the deductible on her insurance policy.
So what is the right thing to do? Should the reader let things lie, or see if the oil truck company will make up the difference on the cost of her rental car?
The right thing to do is first check with the rental car company to see if it will give her a break on the cost of the rental car, so she won't be out of pocket. The rental car company wasn't responsible for the accident, either, however, so it's reasonable to suspect it will hold to its price.
If there is a shortfall, the reader might not have any legal recourse after her insurance company and the oil truck company's insurance company settle on the cost of the repairs. But if she's out of pocket any cash at all, the right thing would be for the oil truck company to reimburse her for the difference, whether it's legally obligated to do so or not.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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