Imagine you rent a car for a day and return it without incident. Three months later, out of the blue, you’re dunned by a debt collector for over $1,300 worth of damage to the car. The complaint for this class action claims that this kind of thing has happened to many people who rented from Hertz Corporation rental companies, where the first they hear of “damage” is a letter from debt collector Viking Billing Service.
The class for this action is all individuals who received letters from Viking asserting claims for purported damage to cars rented from Hertz, Dollar, or Thrifty for the first time, more than thirty days after the date of the purported damage. Illinois and California subclasses have also been proposed, for Illinois residents and for those who rented a car in California, respectively.
Hertz owns Hertz, Dollar, and Thrifty car rental companies. Plaintiff Ronald G. DeNicolo, Jr. rented a Nissan Versa from Thrifty at San Francisco International Airport on February 8, 2018. He returned it approximately twenty-four hours later in what he says was an undamaged condition and was charged only for the day’s rental.
Around May 29, 110 days later, he received a letter from a Viking saying he owed $1,303.70 in damages. In the letter, Viking did not identify itself as a debt collector, nor did it include other language required under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
When DeNicolo called Thrifty, a representative agreed they had no record of him damaging the car. The representative e-mailed him the closing rental agreement showing no damage.
DeNicolo contacted Viking. In support of its claim, Viking then sent him a number of documents, including his opening and closing rental agreements, a vehicle report that incorrectly noted that “Customer Doesn’t Speak English,” a purported estimate for repair of the damage along with photos of it, and Hertz rental terms and conditions for rentals in the Republic of Croatia.
On or around June 6, DeNicolo received a second collection letter, asking for the same sum and at last containing the FDCPA language required. Around July 11, he received a third letter, and around August 31, a fourth.
However, an article in the Detroit Free Press says that Viking’s practice of trying to collect for damages on rental cars months after they’re returned is common.
The complaint says that Better Business Bureau (BBB) filings show more than ninety complaints against Viking in the past three years, with about half giving details of damage claims that show up more than thirty days after car rentals.
The counts in the complaint include, among other things, violations of the FDCPA, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and a request for “a declaratory judgment decreeing that Defendants may not attempt to collect debt stemming from damage to Hertz’s rental cars where the first notice of the claim is furnished to customers more than 30 days after the date the alleged damage occurred.”