Hertz Ordered to Release Records on Alleged Rental-Car Thefts


Hertz customers have issued complaints that the company falsely accused them of stealing rental cars. Numerous renters have made claims that they were stopped by police to be informed that the vehicle they had paid to borrow was reported stolen. Complaints became so prevalent that CBS News launched an investigative report last November to uncover whether individuals were simply lying about their innocence to avoid prosecution or if Hertz was habitually screwing things up.

By December, 191 claims had been filed in federal bankruptcy court on behalf of the people who said they were falsely arrested. But it took another two months for a Delaware bankruptcy court judge to issue a ruling that will require Hertz to make the number of renters it accuses of stealing its cars every year publicly available. 

There are now 230 formal claims against the rental agency. However, it has contended that only a small portion of its fleet is ever involved in theft reports.

“Of the more than 25 million rental transactions by Hertz in the United States per year, 0.014 [percent] fall into the rare situation where vehicles are reported to the authorities after exhaustive attempts to reach the customer,” Hertz said in a statement following the ruling.

That would represent roughly 3,500 police reports annually, with around a tenth being false if the harrowing CBS reports are to be believed. The documentation required by the Delaware court should shed some light on how many of those were deemed erroneous by the company and the circumstances surrounding the relevant reports.

From CBS:

“The vast majority of these cases involve renters who were many weeks or even months overdue returning vehicles and who stopped communicating with us well beyond the scheduled due date. Situations where vehicles are reported to the authorities are very rare and happen only after exhaustive attempts to reach the customer,” the company said in a statement.

Those figures — including how many lawsuits have been filed — are expected to be unsealed soon.

There are dozens of first-hand accounts in numerous CBS articles relating to the story. Many involve traffic stops where police were operating under the assumption the car had recently been stolen and approached with guns drawn. Others have customers being visited at home about vehicles that were no longer in their possession. Claimants even reported having to spend an evening in jail before being formally charged with felony car theft, with a few spending several weeks behind bars.

Is this the result of some systemic evil lurking within Hertz?

Based on my experience with Hertz after its financial mishap, I’m inclined to believe that the company is just terribly mismanaged. As someone who rents cars fairly often, my last few interactions with the brand have left a lot to be desired. While practically every rental agency has seen a noteworthy decline in quality automobiles and competent staff (despite universal pricing increases), Hertz really seemed to be in rough shape after it declared bankruptcy in 2020.

Almost half of the Hertz locations I’ve visited within the last two years were temporary storefronts, stocked with whatever automotive detritus was leftover. They were tragically understaffed, with one example having a singular employee on the clock. When I asked her if that was normal, she told me that there was supposed to be another person present and handed me the keys to a filthy (albeit mostly functional) Nissan Sentra SV. She then apologized and said it was her first week on the job as she disappeared into the back room.

After throwing 800 miles onto the odometer, I returned it to a busy Manhattan parking garage only to find the embedded Hertz office filled to the brim with angry renters. There was nobody there to take my Sentra and the women at the desk became enraged when I asked what should be done. Rather than attempt further discussion, I went back to relax by the designated drop-off zone.

With parking attendants nowhere to be found, I waited thirty minutes as several parties marched out disgruntled and carless. Becoming similarly fed up, I looked around for security cameras that might have caught me driving in, made note of the time, and photographed the car myself for good measure. Then I filled out a Hertz return sheet that was left hanging and had not been updated for several hours.

Save for the Mitsubishi Mirage I was issued in hilly San Francisco by Avis years earlier, it was one of the most interesting car-rental experiences I’ve ever had. But I’m not so sure it should be viewed as a direct condemnation of Hertz so much as an example of how lousy rental firms have gotten across the board. I normally wouldn’t complain about a lackluster experience because I typically get my money’s worth. But what’s been going on with pricing and staffing at most agencies since the pandemic is just sad. There’s been a noteworthy decline in quality and I would wager the larger situation is not helping Hertz keep track of when and if vehicles are actually being stolen.

False claims of theft are also not wholly unique. South Carolina attorney Fritz Jekel launched a similar case in 2019, asking Hertz whether there were any other lawsuits for false arrests and similar claims.

“They produced in less than a week, a dataset, compiled by three third-party administrators that precoded to be information on false arrests and theft or conversion claims made by renters against Hertz from 2008 through 2016,” Jekel told the Delaware News Journal, adding that he is bound by a protective order from sharing the data.

Attorney Francis Alexander Malofiy and the present-day plaintiffs used his case as the basis for why they should be allowed similar access to Hertz’s internal database and proof that one exists.

“People think that they’re an isolated incident and they don’t realize that this is a systemic issue that’s happening across the nation,” Malofiy stated.

Hertz believes it has become the target of a frivolous lawsuit, however. In an earlier statement (dated Nov. 2, 2021) the company suggested that “the attorneys have a track record of making baseless claims that blatantly misrepresent the facts.”

[Image: Hertz]

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