Counter agents are not only your frontline sales representatives to customers; they are also your first line of defense in the event of an accident.

That’s because doing their job thoroughly—which includes getting all of the customer’s information, clearly explaining the agreement and any policies available, making sure that the customer understands it and signs the appropriate waivers—will help you get through the accident claims handling process smoothly and quickly.

However, a simple error on the part of a counter agent or lot employee can throw a wrench in the claims adjusting process. This can lead to the rental company not being able to recover a loss or, worse yet, litigation from a third party.

“That is why it is so important to make sure the person renting the vehicle is properly trained,” says Bill White, vice president of the transportation division at Cambridge Integrated Services, an insurance claims management firm headquartered in Connecticut. [PAGEBREAK] White and Breck Platner, product manager in Cambridge’s transportation division, make four simple recommendations to ensure that accidents are properly dealt with and reported by the rental agency. Consider it a checklist to keep a simple accident from escalating into a major disaster for your company.

1. Get the right information upfront—at the time the rental agreement is made.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially at the rental counter.

It is critical at the time of the rental that the counter agent gets the customer’s correct contact information: name, address, phone number, credit card information and proof of insurance. The agent must also check the customer’s driver’s license, including expiration date.

Acceptance or denial of CDW/LDW and other insurance add-ons need to be indicated clearly on the rental agreement. “The counter rep needs to be sure the right box is initialed, because if there’s an accident, people are going to claim that they bought the insurance,” White says.

These tasks should be common practice at your rental company. But it is important to reinforce them with current employees and stress them to new employees because that first meeting with the customer might be the only opportunity to gather this information.

A properly filled out contract is your defense against unlimited liability, Platner says. Without it, you’ve allowed permissive use of your asset, like giving a company car to an employee. “Instead of just the negligence of the driver being the cause for the accident, you’ve made the negligence of the rental car company an issue,” he says.

2. Provide and use accident report forms.

An accident report form, which gives renters instructions for what to do in case of an accident, takes the guesswork out of what can be an emotional and confusing situation. Copies of the form should be kept in the glove compartment of every vehicle available for rent. [PAGEBREAK] Customers should be advised to read and fill out the form at the time of the accident so the accident details are fresh in the customer’s mind and so he or she can get the information of other parties involved and any witnesses.

“It’s all the more important that customers get this information in minor accidents that tend not to be reported,” White says. “This may be the only chance to get information about facts of loss or parties involved, especially if they didn’t call the police.”

A good form should include these sections:

• When and where - Date, time and exact location of the accident

• Others involved - Contact information for all third-party drivers (including insurance policy numbers) and pedestrians; description of vehicle(s) involved, how the accident occurred and description of damages to vehicles.

• Conditions - Weather and street conditions, conditions as vehicles were in motion.

• Injuries - List of persons injured, contact information and hospital details.

• Police investigation - If the police were notified, the police department, contact information and any arrests or citations.

• Witnesses - Contact info of all witnesses

• Diagram of scene - To make a sketch of accident scene

If the renter returns with the damaged vehicle and hasn’t yet filled it out, the employee should have the customer “complete it right on the spot, in as much detail as possible,” White says.

In the event that the customer doesn’t tell the rental employee about the accident, the walk-around inspection during check-in becomes doubly important. [PAGEBREAK]

3. Counter and lot employees are data collectors, not investigators.

While employees have a critical role in handling accidents, they should also know the limits of their role.

“We don’t want them being investigators,” White says. “It’s not the counter person’s job to assess liability or to determine the amount of damages. It’s just their job to identify the issues, collect the contact information and get it to the professional (insurer or adjuster) as quickly as they can.”

As impartial information gatherers, counter or lot reps should simply ask questions, and “do it in a non-adversarial way,” Platner says.

The first order of business is to ask if the renter is okay, and if anyone else is hurt. Have the police been notified? If the police are involved, make sure the renter gets the information from the officer on how to obtain the police report.

The agent should then ask the renter the same questions found on the accident report form. In addition, the major rental systems have computerized forms to walk the counter rep through the process.

Obtaining the proper contact information of third parties and witnesses is critical, so that the insurance adjuster can contact them and conduct the actual investigation.

If a third party is never contacted, the rental company or renter may end up paying for something the third party should have paid for. On the flipside, if the third party believes they are not at fault, they may get nervous and look for attorneys, White says.

4. Turn the information over to the insurer or adjuster right away.

Quickly submitting the accident form and any police reports or information over to your insurance provider or adjuster should be a top priority. This way, the adjuster can start investigating what happened while facts are fresh in the minds of everyone involved.

The adjusters will be the ones to reassure the parties that the claim will be handled swiftly and fairly, so it’s best that they get in touch with the parties as quickly as possible. The goal is to contact all parties within two days, White says.

Depending on the severity of the accident, the damaged vehicle may be a part of an investigation, which will affect when the vehicle can be repaired and get back on the road.

It may take longer if there is an allegation from the renter of a vehicle defect that influenced the accident, in which case the damaged vehicle will need to be preserved for an investigation, White says. It might need to be inspected by another party or even the car manufacturer, and the rental company will need to wait until the investigation is complete.

When turning in a claim, you’ll need to provide a copy of the rental transaction, the accident report form, a police report if applicable and proof of loss of damages.

Is all your paperwork organized? White stresses keeping track of reimbursable costs such as tow bills and storage fees.

Lot or counter reps should meticulously follow the company’s procedures every time there is an accident, without question, says Platner, because “even with a bad accident, if everything is filled out correctly, you’d be surprised at how smoothly, fairly and quickly the adjusting process can go.”

For a complete glove box accident report guide, click here.

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