Dispute with rental car company; could use perspective

So here is the situation in a nutshell. Wife and I rented a car earlier this summer from Enterprise. Drove car without incident (it actually spent most of the time in a parking garage). Return home and Enterprise is claiming we brought the car back with hail damage, which is, in a word, a crock of shit. I reported their claim to my insurance company (I have coverage for damage to rental cars). Enterprise claimed $1,000 in damage to the car.

Insurance company came back and said Enterprise offered no evidence that a hailstorm had happened (because it didn’t) and no specifics as to what the damage was. They told me (and them) they weren’t paying it and that I was not liable for it.

Despite this, Enterprise has continued to contact me demanding money. They figured out my deductible amount ($250) and are demanding I pay that or else a collection agency gets involved.

My questions:

  • Does Enterprise have any legal standing to demand money from me if my insurance company denied their claims?

  • Even if insurance had agreed to pay, wouldn’t I pay my deductible to them, not Enterprise?

What is sticking in my craw here is that the whole “just pay us your deductible directly” angle feels perilously close to attempted fraud or extortion —an underhanded attempt to get me to pay money I am not liable to pay. I am writing a detailed response to Enterprise (and plan to copy the Attorney General’s office as well as my alderman) but I’m not sure if I’m on firm ground with this quasi-fraud thing.

Any insights appreciated! Thanks Dopers.

This is why you pay premiums to your insurance company. Write them and demand that they take care of this. Either by paying or defending.

The insurance company agreed to send them another letter stating they weren’t paying the claim. But they also intimated they couldn’t really do much to stop them. They did say in a letter they would defend me in the event of a lawsuit. Needless to say, that’s the last thing I want to happen.

Did you check the car in with an employee or was it a “drop the keys in the slot” sort of return?
I’m wondering if a car with a similar plate/VIN was damaged and someone put down the wrong number on the paperwork.

It was a “drop off the keys” return.

Some car rental companies make more money from claims like this than rental income, methinks. I once returned a rental car and the company claimed I had overspray paint all over it, and wanted me to pay for a new paint job. When I pointed out that their rental yard was next to a shipyard, where spray paint was used regularly, and my residence where the car was parked was 10 miles away where there was no paint at all, and I would sue their ass if they pursued the claim, they sent me a letter of apology and a coupon for a future discount.

Sometimes a firm stand is all it takes. Wimps lose.

Did you rent the car in Illinois or out of state? Because your letter to the state Attorney General should go to the one for the state in which the car was rented. FYI, here is the customer contact information for Enterprise Rent A Car, and the same writer offers suggestions for how to write the letter here and here is more advice.

Just because you didn’t mention it…did it hail while you had the car?

Rented it in Illinois. Thanks for the links.

No, not at all.

It won’t help you now but every time we rent a vehicle to take photos of the vehicle before we take possession and leave the rental lot. We make sure the rental agency sees us do that. We do it again when we return the vehicle. We never just drop off the keys, even if it means more work for us in the short-term.

No one has addresses these specific questions, so let me try.

Imagine a kid from from a rich family (and let’s assume he is an adult) with no job and not much money of his own has parents who pay all his expenses for him. He breaks your window and when you confront him he says “Go ask my father to pay you.” You do, and his father tells you to go bugger off. Does that end it? Do you have to say “His father says he’s not paying, I guess that’s my tough luck and I have to leave the kid alone now”?

Your insurance company is kind of like your rich father. You and the insurance company entered into an agreement that says, among other things, that if you become liable for damages caused by certain acts, they will pay the bill on your behalf and/or hire lawyers to defend you. This is an agreement between you and your insurance company. If they fail to live up to this agreement, you certainly have the right to bring action against them.

The fact that you have an agreement with your insurance company doesn’t affect somebody else’s rights. If you (allegedly) damaged a rental car, the rental car company’s beef is with you, not with your insurance company. As a practical matter they may try to negotiate with your insurance company since they have the money, but that doesn’t change the fact that you – not the insurance company – allegedly damaged their car.

YOU are responsible to the rental company for the alleged damage. The insurance company is responsible to you to pay if you become legally liable for the damage. You cannot relieve yourself of your responsibility by entering into a contract with a third party (the insurance company). The rental company did not agree to the terms of your insurance policy.

So, the answer to your first question is yes, they can bug you for the money. They are under no obligation to accept your insurance company’s determination. If you consent to let the insurance company hire a lawyer for you, then you can tell them to call the lawyer instead.

As to your second question, your insurance company is obligated to pay the amount you become legally liable for (up to the policy limit) minus the deductible. Once this is determined, you still owe the rental car company whatever the insurance company didn’t pay.

It appears that the rental company is offering you a compromise that they will leave you alone if you pay them an amount that just happens to equal your deductible. Of course, get in writing exactly what they are offering and the actual extent to which they will waive any claim they might have. And remember that if you enter into your own settlement with the rental company without the consent of the insurance company, that will void your coverage for the accident. If you don’t understand what rights you are signing away, you may find yourself on the hook for any additional damages that might be claimed.

Thanks Alley Dweller, that is clear.

I have a more general question about this: If you have a dispute like this, WHO has the burden of proof to PROVE WHAT to WHOM?

Can/must the rental company sue the customer in court?

Or can/must the customer sue the rental company (or the collections agency) to get the (alleged) bill dismissed? If this is the case, is the customer now the plaintiff, with the burden of proof?

Don’t answer here. I think there’s a thread in itself to be had with this question, and I’ve just started it here.

Have them show you the weather report for where it hailed and the GPS data that shows you were in that area at the time.
It’s my understanding that a lot of those rental places have a GPS in their cars, ask them to show you the record. You might even say “My insurance company asked for it” or, if you don’t want to lie, say “I have to show it to my insurance company”.

You might be able to get them to back off just by asking them for some weather data that shows it hailed at the time you had the car, period.

If you were going to do that, I’d make sure to use a cell phone. A regular camera isn’t going to do you any good since it’s too easy to falsify the date. Also, if there is a problem, a person that works there, that sees you doing it, isn’t going to matter. First off, if it comes up, he could just say “Sorry, I don’t remember doing that” or corporate can say that he was never authorized to supervise pictures being taken of the car as evidence. Second, if something happened, you could just bring the car back to the lot, take some new pictures, drive off and pretend those are the first pictures. (“See, that scratch was there to begin with, it’s in this picture and your desk agent watched me take these pictures”).

Sounds like a con job from the beginning, if there was never any hail in the first place, so the rest of it is hogwash, too.

I suspect they’d have to take you to court, and that they’d have to prove something that didn’t happen, so…good luck to them. Find a two-sentence line stating there was never any such damage, stop bugging you about it, and stick to that script when they call, maybe send it in writing to their office, and regional, and state…whatever gets it up the chain. If this office is doing it once, they’ve done before and will do it again.

Here is a link for national hail reports issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If there is no activity in that area, I think you would have a pretty strong case.

To find a specific date, either back arrow, or type in the date after the forward slash in the address bar.

This seems like something that Chris Eliott can help with

It’s just as easy to hack the cell phone.