How A Mom Who Lost Two Daughters in a Tragic, Fatal Crash of a Rental Car Fought To Change Laws and Make Rental Cars Safer

When you rent a car, truck or SUV for a vacation, business trip or other need, you expect that the vehicle is well-maintained and safe to drive. It’s just a common sense expectation.

But until recently, that expectation could have been very, very wrong.

In the United States, there are presently no laws that forbid rental-car companies from sending vehicles out with customers if the vehicles are facing federal recalls for safety problems. So rental companies have been able to send out recalled vehicles even if they were not repaired before hitting the streets again.

That is expected to change by later this year, due to the tireless efforts of a California mother and lawyer who lost two daughters in the tragic, fatal crash of a rental car in October 2004. The vehicle, a 2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser, was rented to the young women and was allowed out on the road despite four significant safety recalls from its manufacturer.

The tragedy occurred when a power steering leak sprayed fluid under the hood and caused an engine fire, which caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle and smash head-on into a tractor-trailer, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times. The recall for the power steering leak and fire problem had been issued one month before the fatal crash that killed

A family photo of Raechel (left) and Jacqueline Houck, who died in the October 2004 crash of their Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

according to the story.

Their mother, Carol “Cally” Houck, a lawyer in Ojai, California, investigated the crash and learned that her daughters had been given a vehicle that was subject to four safety recall notices, but had not been repaired before it was rented out.

She sued Enterprise-Rent-A-Car and declined an early settlement offer because she didn’t want the case to be subject to any kind of confidentiality agreement that would have prevented her from talking publicly about the problems that led to the deaths of her daughters, according to a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Ms. Houck even started an online petition on Change.com demanding that Enterprise stop opposing legislation that would prevent rental -car companies from renting out recalled vehicles. The petition has collected more than 162,000 signatures.

That car was a ticking time bomb,” Ms. Houck told The Inquirer. The vehicle had even been rented out three times – but not repaired – before her daughters rented it with tragic results. “When they got there, it was the only car on the lot, and they were told it was an upgrade,” she told the paper.

Initially, Enterprise fought the case, but just before the trial was to begin in 2010, the company admitted liability in the case and a California jury awarded the family $15 million in the case, according to The Inquirer.

But that wasn’t enough.

Ms. Houck then continued to push to make sure that such a tragedy could not happen again in this country, pushing for federal laws that would forbid rental-car companies from sending out recalled vehicles until they are completely repaired and safe.

Recently, the main car-rental companies in the U.S., including Enterprise, have agreed to now fix recalled vehicles before they are sent out again for rentals or sold as used vehicles after their stints in rental car fleets.

“A spokeswoman for Enterprise Holdings, the largest car-rental company and owner of the Enterprise, National, and Alamo brands, said the company had already changed its practice but had initially resisted a legislative mandate,” according to The Inquirer. “[The spokeswoman] said it switched course after hearing from customers who wanted a clear federal rule.”

Also backing the measure are Hertz-Rent-A-Car, which has forbidden the rental of recalled vehicles since the 1980s, Avis Budget Group and Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group.

“No one obtaining a car from a rental car company should ever have to worry that it’s been recalled,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), told The Los Angeles Times.

The companies have now all also “backed proposed legislation that would place the industry’s compliance with recall notices under the oversight of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” the paper reported. Existing federal law prevented auto dealers from selling recalled vehicles, but rental-car companies were not previously covered.

The bill “would require companies to stop renting vehicles within 24 hours of receiving a safety recall notice or within 48 hours if the recall involved more than 5,000 vehicles in a company’s fleet,” according to The Times. “The vehicles could not be rented or sold until the safety defect was repaired.”

The proposed law was named the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2012, and is expected to be passed by the U.S. Senate by the end of the year.

Ms. Houck commended the rental car companies for backing “common-sense legislation that will prevent future tragedies such as my family endured,” according to The Times. “If this bill had been the law, and the rental companies complied, my beautiful, precious daughters would still be alive. My abiding hope is that it will be enacted, and other families will be spared our devastating loss.”

Sen. Boxer wrote to the rental-car companies and asked them to “voluntarily agree not to sell or rent recalled vehicles” while the proposed law was being assembled, The Times reported.

It’s about time that recalled vehicles will soon not be able to be rented out until they are safely and properly repaired. Something as simple as renting a car for a holiday weekend or for a family reunion should not be dangerous, as is was in the case of the Houck family’s beloved daughters.

We salute the efforts to make this dangerous practice a thing of the past.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you with your legal case if you or a loved one is ever seriously injured in a vehicle accident anywhere in the United States. We represent the families of victims who die in such tragedies as well, to ensure that their families receive every penny of damages that they are eligible to receive.

Call MyPhillyLawyer at 215-227-2727 or toll-free at 1-866-920-0352 anytime and our experienced, compassionate, aggressive team of attorneys and support staff will be there for you and your family every step of the way as we manage your case through the legal system.

When Winning Matters Most, Call MyPhillyLawyer.