Rental Car Company Not Liable for Driver’s Distraction, According to Appellate Court: Ford v. Hertz Corp.

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Home / Blog / Rental Car Company Not Liable for Driver’s Distraction, According to Appellate Court: Ford v. Hertz Corp.

by | Oct 18, 2012 | Auto Accidents

A recent court decision addressed the issue of distracted driving. A driver who suffered injuries when another driver, who was allegedly distracted by an on-board GPS device in her car, rear-ended him. He sued the driver, her employer, and the rental car company that provided her vehicle in Ford v. Hertz Corp., et al. A California appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal with prejudice of his causes of action against the rental car company for negligence and strict liability, finding that distracted driving is not a danger inherent to the navigation system.

The plaintiff, Trent J. Ford, alleged that he was rear-ended by the defendant, Kristi McGowan, while stopped at a red light in Newport Beach, California on November 10, 2009. McGowan had rented her vehicle from The Hertz Corporation and was on her way to a business meeting when the accident occurred. She was allegedly using the GPS system installed in the vehicle to get directions to the meeting and had taken her eyes off the road.

Ford sued McGowan, Hertz, and McGowan’s employer. His first complaint asserted causes of action against Hertz for, among others, negligence and unfair business practices. The trial court sustained Hertz’s demurrer with leave to amend, holding that the complaint did not plead any facts to show how the GPS system might cause an accident.

Ford’s amended complaint asserted negligence and two products liability claims against Hertz. He alleged that Hertz was strictly liable due to a design defect and a failure to warn of the danger of distracted driving. He claimed that Hertz was negligent because it allowed the GPS systems to continue functioning while its vehicles were in motion. The trial court again sustained Hertz’s demurrer, finding that California law specifically allows GPS systems in automobiles. Ford reportedly did not request leave to amend his complaint. The trial court granted Hertz’s motion to dismiss them from the suit, and Ford filed an appeal.

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Appellate District found that the plaintiff did not plead facts to show that Hertz breached a duty of care with its navigation system. A negligence claim requires proof that a defendant owes a duty of care to a plaintiff, that the defendant breached that duty, that this breach was the proximate cause of the accident or injury, and that the plaintiff suffered measurable damages. Ford also did not allege that the GPS system was defective, and the court noted that California law exempts GPS systems from requirements to lock out visual displays while a vehicle is in motion. The court found that the plaintiff’s design defect claim was inadequate for many of the same reasons. It held that he did not plead any allegations as to how distracted driving was an inherent danger of the GPS system.

Missouri law has a similar exemption for GPS navigation devices. Missouri Revised Statutes Sec. 304.820(10)(3) states that the ban on texting and other uses of handheld electronic devices by some drivers does not apply to GPS devices, including both factory-installed and separate devices.

Auto accident attorney Doug Horn is an advocate for safe driving in the greater Kansas City area. He represents the rights of people who have suffered injuries or lost loved ones due to the negligent or illegal conduct of others. Contact us today online or at (816) 795-7500 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.