According to the owner of the rented car, Liz Fong-Jones, RelayRides sent her a check to cover the cost of replacing the car, and was supposed to step in to cover any claims from the accident. However, Liz's insurance company eventually got involved, and since it's possible that the claims for the accident could total between $1.2 and $1.5 million, additional coverage is likely to be needed. Apparently RelayRides told her insurance company to deny the claim because they have an interest in making sure insurance companies will cover people using RelayRides. But if they do, it's possible that Ms. Fong-Jones could be held responsible for the additional costs. And RelayRides has not yet agreed to step in and cut a check to cover this potential liability.
There is also the question of how insurance companies might react to finding out that their clients are potentially taking on additional risk by renting out their homes or cars. Ron Lieber, the New York Times author that's been covering the RelayRides story, reported that he's gotten an influx of emails from readers concerned about the implications of renting their apartments on Airbnb. On this point, Airbnb's terms and conditions are clear. They state that “Airbnb is not responsible for and disclaims any and all liability related to any and all listings and accommodation.”
Given the potential for problems to happen as a result of these sharing agreements, it's only a matter of time before serious incidents like the RelayRides accident shine an even bigger spotlight on the potential liabilities associated with using Airbnb and other sharing services.
Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.