In 2004, Raechel and Jacqueline Houck rented a Chrysler PT Cruiser from Enterprise left their mother’s house in Ojai to make the five hour drive north to their home in Santa Cruz, CA.
That would be the last time their mother Cally would see them alive.
“Enterprise admitted that it was standard operating procedure to keep renting out cars, even when they knew a recall that could affect customer safety was in effect.”
In fact, that very model had been recalled for a faulty power steering house that could cause a fire and lead to loss of steering. Enterprise knew about the recall, and rented the car out to the sisters anyways. They were the fourth clients to rent the car since the recall.
What happened next was a tragic as it was predictable – the vehicle’s steering hose failed on highway 101 North of Paso Robles and crossed the median. It then smashed into an 18-wheeler and burst into flames, killing both sisters, who were just 20 and 24 years old.
Rather than immediately accept responsibility, Enterprise chose to deny the claim and fight the Houck parents in court when they filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their daughters. At one point, Enterprise’s lawyers even implied that the young girls intentionally committed suicide.RAECHEL AND JACQUELINE HOUCK DIED WHEN THEIR RECALLED RENTAL CAR LOST STEERING CONTROL.
In fact, Enterprise admitted that it was standard operating procedure to keep renting out cars, even when they knew a recall that could affect customer safety was in effect. Employees were supposed to put a sticky note on the keys that said “recall,” but that was all that was required. On busy days when the safe cars had all been rented out, Enterprise would routinely send vehicles subject to safety recalls out into the world, where they could hurt their customers and others on the road.
In 2010, the Houck family finally saw justice in the form of a $15 million dollar jury verdict in Alameda County Superior Court, but they did not stop there. They Houcks declined an additional $3 million dollar payout from Enterprise for a confidentiality provision, and kept the fight going in Congress.
The result of their tireless lobbying is that in 2016, for the first time, ever, Federal law finally prohibits car rental companies from renting a recalled vehicle until it is fixed.
Of course, the legislation is not perfect. Rental car companies with fewer than 35 vehicles are exempt from the law, so if you are not at one of the bigger national carriers, RMD Law LLP would recommend that you ask about safety recalls before you sign the rental contract. Cars are often recalled for serious safety defects, so it pays to avoid trouble and stay safe when you rent a car. We do support the passage of this law though, as it means that the rental car corporations are now mandated by law to put your safety ahead of their profits.