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U-Haul crashes into Buckhead home, now the owners have to foot the bill

Federal law lets rental truck companies off the hook even when their renters hit innocent victims and take off.

ATLANTA — The outside brick wall of Ashton Harrison’s house is inside her dining room.

Surveillance video shows a 26-foot U-Haul truck rolling down the driveway and slamming into her Buckhead home.

“(It's) $70,000 to $80,000 dollars worth of damage," she said. "I mean severe structural damage inside and outside the home."

She and her husband were on their honeymoon in Costa Rica in February when neighbors called to tell them about the crash. By the time police arrived, the driver was long gone.

The couple’s surveillance camera shows the driver and passenger rushing to get away. They backed the U-Haul over the lawn dragging pieces of their house along with them.

Neither their cameras nor one recorded by Atlanta Police on their block captured the license plate or U-Haul inventory number. The only way to track the U-Haul is the severe damage to the front end.

Credit: WXIA

Harrison said she hasn't heard from U-Haul or its insurer in the weeks after she filed a claim.

“Yeah, that would be nice but when no one is willing to call you back, respond to an email, a phone call, there’s not much you can do," she said. "You’re really left feeling stuck."

A bigger problem

She’s not the only one.

“The guy looks out the window, just turns, cut his wheel onto my vehicle, hits me, spins me out of control, and I really thought I was dead at that moment,” a driver named Ivin told us, describing a U-Haul hitting his car on I-75/I-85 near Langford Parkway last August.

Credit: WXIA

Ivin doesn’t want us to use his last name because of his ongoing battle with U-Haul and its insurer, RepWest.

The Georgia State Patrol determined the U-Haul driver was at fault, but the U-Haul took off. Video from another driver caught the driver speeding off immediately after the crash.

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RepWest wrote to Ivin’s attorney that it was “accepting liability based on the police report,” according to copies of emails Ivin provided to 11Alive Investigators.

Who is responsible?

The problem is the amount U-Haul’s insurer offered is less than the appraised value of Ivin’s totaled Toyota Avalon. 

“They say they have only $25,000 worth of insurance coverage," he said. "The car was valued at way over $25,000."

The insurer cited Georgia law. Like most states, Georgia sets a minimum for liability insurance, but insurance companies treat that minimum as the maximum they’ll cover. 

In Georgia, the minimum liability — or ‘limit’ of liability as insurers call it — is $25,000 dollars for property damage. 

Federal law also limits the liability of rental car companies. The Graves Amendment became law nationwide in 2005. It relieves rental car and truck companies from vicarious liability. In other words, U-Haul is not responsible when its renters cause a crash.

Penske Truck Rental told us about the Graves Amendment. U-Haul wrote in response to our question, “state laws are self-explanatory and are there to protect the insurance carrier, as well as the injured party.”

“Why should I take a loss when I was not the person at fault?” Ivin asked 11Alive.

What's next

That leaves both Ashton and Ivin looking for the hit-and-run drivers to hold them accountable for the rest of the damages in their respective crashes.

Ivin told us he asked U-Haul for the contract and driver’s identity. 

Credit: WXIA

“They told me it was none of my business who was driving the truck,” he said. He later added that RepWest gave his attorney the renter’s name, and the renter claimed someone else was driving the truck at the time.

Credit: WXIA

Ashton Harrison is working with her homeowner’s insurance to pay for the repairs. She told us U-Haul would not return her calls trying to find the driver or even help identify the specific truck that was involved.

“It’s become like a part-time job trying to get everything resolved,” Harrison said.