Michael LaPlaca throughout his life as an auto rental industry lawyer.
● Do I need a limited license to sell a supplemental liability insurance policy?
● Are dealer loaners covered by the Graves Amendment?
● Why has there been a recent increase in negligent entrustment lawsuits?
● Should an international driver’s permit be accepted as evidence of a valid license?
● Does economic loss need to be proven to recover for loss of use of a rental vehicle?
If you didn’t know the answers to these questions, chances are you knew who had them — Michael LaPlaca. LaPlaca, “the” auto rental industry’s lawyer, died in January. His passing leaves a hole in the industry. It removes a counselor to hundreds of auto rental operators, a trusted authority on auto rental law, a business adviser, an advocate for the industry, a voice of logic and reason and wisdom, a steady hand.
LaPlaca’s career was almost entirely devoted to the auto rental industry. He began at a time when auto rental essentially constituted business travel through airports. He helped shepherd the industry as it evolved into leisure travel and insurance replacement, then neighborhood rentals and new business models such as car sharing. “When I started in the business, only 5% of drivers had ever rented a car,” LaPlaca has said. “Now the percentage may well be reversed.”
LaPlaca was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area. He landed a rare full-ride scholarship to Georgetown University in 1955, though after graduation he detoured into Army service that took him overseas to Korea. Fresh out of the Army in 1965, LaPlaca was recruited to join a startup car rental company, Valcar, which was going after a new business niche, the value-minded customer in the local market. Valcar was owned by Hertz, but Frank Olson, in charge of the D.C. area, couldn’t recruit from within Hertz for antitrust reasons.
“I interviewed Michael,” Olson recounts. “He was bright, enthusiastic and enjoyable to be with. I said to myself, this guy has talent.” LaPlaca joined Valcar’s sales force in D.C., and was later transferred to San Francisco.
“You always enjoyed being with Michael LaPlaca,” Olson continues. “He was the type of personality that you felt at ease with. And the customers felt the same way. He was a great asset.”
Hertz divested Valcar when the company was taken over by RCA in 1967. Olson was transferred back to Hertz corporate, on the path to becoming Hertz’s chairman and CEO for more than 20 years. And LaPlaca’s career was ready for a new direction as well.
LaPlaca stayed in San Francisco to get his law degree at the University of California/Hastings College of Law. Upon graduation, he rejoined Hertz and became national sales manager for the corporate office in New York. There he was part of the team that developed an automated rental system that would later become the Hertz #1 Club, which pioneered customer data capture that is omnipresent today.
Enjoying his sales job but not the heavy travel schedule, LaPlaca decided to put his law degree to work. He first joined a large law firm in D.C., and then teamed with Sol Edidin, former general counsel for Hertz Corp. and director of CATRALA (Car and Truck Rental and Leasing Association) to open a practice in 1976. Edidin mentored LaPlaca in franchise law, rental agreement drafting and compliance and rental insurance. Edidin died in the mid-1980s, and LaPlaca continued the practice. LaPlaca later gained expertise in motorcycle and recreational vehicle rentals.