California Wrongful Death Lawsuit Spurs Congress To Make Car Rental Industry Safer

February 23, 2012, by Thomas Lewellyn

car rentals.jpegWhen we rent a car, shouldn't we be entitled to assume that the car is in a safe condition? Shouldn't we be able to assume, that if the manufacturer of the car has issued a safety recall, that the rental car company will comply with that safety recall? In a classic case pitting corporate profits against public safety, Enterprise Car Rental apparent response to these questions is "No!"

Congress is considering laws right now which would address the problem of rental car companies not abiding by auto manufacturers' safety recalls. The Congress was motivated to act by a California mother who lost her two daughters in a tragic car accident when Enterprise Car rental ignored safety recalls issued by Chrysler in 2004.

In 2004, Chrysler issued a safety recall of its PT Cruisers. There was a problem with power steering fluid leaking which could cause fires. Enterprise received notice of the safety recall, but failed to have the problem fixed. It rented a PT Cruiser to two sisters, Rachel and Jacqueline Houck. The steering fluid leaked causing a fire in the vehicle which caused them to loose control of their car and strike a semi tractor-trailer. Both young women died in the accident.

Their mother Cally Houck, then brought a wrongful death lawsuit against Enterprise. In the litigation, discovery showed that Enterprise was aware of the recall yet rented the car out to several other customers before renting it to the Houcks. Nevertheless, Enterprise fought the case for five years before finally admitting fault. The case still went to the jury on damages. Ms. Houck was awarded damages for the wrongful death of her two daughters in the amount of $15,000,000.00.

To Ms. Houck's credit, she has become an advocate for greater safety in the rental car industry. She said that Enterprise rented her daughters a "ticking time bomb." She wants to prevent this from happening to others. She has lobbied with members of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety for laws to ground rental cars with unrepaired safety defects. Currently, there is a bill sponsored by New York Senator Charles Schumer and California Senator Barbara which would prevent rental car companies from renting recalled cars until they are repaired.

Enterprise Car Rental is the largest rental car company in the United States, behind Avis and Hertz. Enterprise is currently opposing this safety measure.

As an Alameda personal injury lawyer, I am concerned about public safety. We can act to help prevent senseless car accidents such as the one that took the lives of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck. Cally Houck has written a petition to encourage Enterprise to end its opposition to the proposed law grounding unsafe cars which have been recalled by the manufacturer. I urge you to join with her and sign her petition.

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Mother whose daughters died in fiery rental car crash is pleased Hertz agrees to rental recall oversight, Mercury News, February 21, 2012