Californians who were involved in crashes with drivers of rental cars found they don't have the insurance coverage they expected.
Christine Frost had just moved from Sacramento to Santa Barbara. She was taking her daughter Ella to school when, before she knew it, her car was rear-ended.
With damage to her bumper, Frost asked the two men for their information and insurance so she could get her car repaired.
The driver, a man from Jamaica, was in a car with Idaho plates that was rented from Avis Rent-A-Car.
"He said it's a rental car, that's all he has,” Frost said. “And I took pictures of his car, my car, the damage, all the papers that he gave me and the driver's license, and then he drove off."
Frost tried to get her insurance company to help her. The insurance company said since the damages were less than her deductible, she would have to seek compensation herself and figure out who actually rented the car.
"We don't know who rented the car because, apparently, the guy that hit me and the guy that rented the car were two different people," Frost said.
The driver who hit Frost wasn't even on the rental car contract.
Frost filed a claim with Avis, the company that owns the car. Avis told Frost the company wasn’t responsible because California is, what Avis called, a "walk-away" state.
"We tried to find out afterwards what does that mean, and we tried to Google it,” Frost explained. “I think there's no such thing as a 'walk-away' state. So basically, Avis said because the guy that hit me is a different guy than that rented the vehicle, they have absolutely no responsibility toward me."
"(Avis) said ‘No, you have to go after the person that hit you,’" she added.
California Department of Insurance spokesperson Nancy Kinkaid said even if the driver of the rental car had his own personal insurance, it might not cover the crash because of clauses in the rental agreement.
"Your insurance does follow you. But, it's also very important to remember that California is a contract state,” Kinkaid explained. “So, you want to make sure that there isn't something in that rental agreement that might let your insurance company off the hook if you were driving as a non-authorized driver.”
She said if someone else is driving your rental car, you can be on the hook if they crash into you.
"Yeah, you're vulnerable if you don't,” Kincaid said. “It's no different than any contract you sign for any service. If you violate the contract, you've left yourself open to being vulnerable financially. It's a risk, and I would tell people don't do it.”
Which is what Avis, who owns the car, told Frost to do -- go after the man who rented the car.
Frost said Avis wouldn't tell her who rented the car or even if they had insurance, leaving her stuck with the repair bill.
"So Avis, even though it's their vehicle, they took no responsibility," Frost said.
Frost had uninsured motorist coverage -- which might normally pay for the damage -- but because the repairs didn't amount to more than her deductible, Frost was stuck paying the tab.
"It's very important that you have uninsured motorist coverage becau