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  • By Jordan W. Charness

    Poor Peter; Lucky Peter: I guess it depends on how you look at it. If you read last week’s column you’ll recall that Poor Peter drove into a deer that unexpectedly jumped onto the highway. Both the car he was driving and the deer were a complete right off.

    Lucky Peter survived the crash without a scratch since he was smart enough to be wearing his seatbelt and was driving at a reasonable speed near the speed limit. In a way, Peter was even more fortunate to be driving a rental car than his own beloved sports car. Although a car is just a car, Peter had not really bonded with the rental car and its loss was more of an administrative problem then anything else.

    Perhaps even more fortunate was the fact that Peter had rented this car using a premium credit card that included insurance for any damage caused by collision or theft when fully paying for the rental on that credit card.

    So there Peter was, literally in the middle of nowhere. He had just hit a deer on some lonely interstate Highway in New Jersey. The police arranged to tow the car away and even got him a ride to the airport, which was his destination. He sheepishly reported the accident to the rental car company at their counter to someone who made a note of it. He then flew home.

    During the entire flight home he worried about the administrative nightmare that might be caused by having an accident that was only insured by a credit card. He needn’t have worried.

    As long as Peter followed the terms and conditions of the contract that came with his credit card he would be covered according to the terms of the policy. Since he was somewhat worried, upon his arrival at home, he called the credit card company and asked them what to do.

    Although it was late at night he reached a caring individual who told him that although it was too late to file a complete report they would at least note the fact that he had called and begin to open a file. He was asked to call back the next day and they give him a special toll-free number to use.

    According to the terms of the credit card contract Peter was required to notify the credit card company within 48 hours of the accident. Although this is a term of the contract, if circumstances prevent you from reporting the accident for more than 48 hours (for instance if you are in a coma in the hospital) the law will not let you lose your right to claim for compensation from your credit card insurer.

    Before filing a claim you may discuss the accident with the rental car company and decide whether you or the rental car company will make the claim. In some cases the rental car companies simply note your credit card and do the paperwork themselves.

    Even if the rental agency decides to settle the claim directly you still must complete the accident report claim form that the credit card company will send to you. You then assign your right to the rental agency to make the claim on your behalf. In this way you turn over the responsibility to them. The car rental agency however must accept it. You cannot just unilaterally decide that it will be the rental car agency’s problem.

    If you decide that you’ll be making the claim, you’ll be required to call the claims administrator within 48 hours of the accident. You must also submit as much documentation as possible within 45 days of the accident and make sure to send all of it in within 90 days.

    Although the requirements for each company vary, in general you will be required to provide the following documents:

    • a completed and signed claim form
    • the credit card receipt showing that the rental was paid in full using that credit card
    • an original copy of the vehicle rental agreement
    • an accident report if one exists
    • a police report if available

    With any luck, and under normal circumstances, the claim should be paid within a few weeks after the credit card company’s claim adjuster has received all the necessary documentation.

    You should remember that once the credit card company has paid the claim on your behalf you will have been considered to subrogate your claim to them. This fancy legal term means that they take over all your rights to go against a third-party since they have paid the claim for you. In other words if another driver had rammed your car it would be the credit card company that would have the right to go after the other driver for the property damage to the vehicle you were driving. You would no longer be able to claim for that damage.

    All in all, Peter found that it was not dramatically more difficult to claim for the damage to the vehicle from his credit card company that it would have been to claim from his own insurance for an accident to his own car. And even better, for Lucky Peter, it was not his beloved sports car that had been trashed.

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