Payless denies car rental damage appeal, but did this driver give in too soon?

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By Christopher Elliott

Payless wanted Shannon Lewis to pay up after it claimed she damaged one of its rental cars in Las Vegas.

She says she didn’t do it, and asked me to mediate her case. It didn’t quite work out the way either of us wanted it to, but on the bright side, there are plenty of lessons for your next car rental.

Lewis is a corporate travel agent with 15 years of experience, but this was only her second time renting a car. “I declined the insurance because we have our own insurance through USAA,” she says.

She continues:

We left the rental counter after signing all the necessary documents and went to the car rental pick-up area that is located on the bottom level of the parking garage.

We walked up to the attendant and she advised us that the car had already been inspected and was set to go, handed me a pamphlet and said have a good day. We walked to our car (the last one left on the lot – no choice) and loaded our bags into the car and drove off.

So she didn’t inspect the car herself, and she had no photos to prove that the car was undamaged. That’s too bad. (Here’s our ultimate guide to renting a car.)

You know what happens next, don’t you? When she returned the car, a representative pointed out a few small dings on the vehicle that she hadn’t noticed.

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The gentleman asked me if I saw the pings (little dents above the rear wheel – less than what hail damage would make and maybe two or three of them), and I answered no, so he pointed them out to me, and unless you looked at a
certain angle with a certain light, they weren’t even noticeable to the eye.

I advised him that at no point in time was the car damaged in our possession, since it sat most of the time. He said that I had to sign a document stating that there is damage to the car and that I could not leave without signing the document.

She spoke with a manager on location, who told her “not to worry” about the dings.

She should have worried.

“I then receive a letter from Subrogation Management Team Ltd that states that I am liable for damages to the car and that there was an estimate in progress,” she says.

Total damage? $1,994, including a $50 “administrative” fee and a $150 “loss of use” fee.

When I reviewed her case, I thought it didn’t pass the sniff test. For starters, Subrogation Management has a reputation for being very aggressive when it comes to damage claims. So does Payless. But beyond that, verbal assurances given to Lewis and the intense, post-rental inspection just didn’t look right.

My advocacy team and I contacted Payless, and it agreed to look into the claim. Two months passed with no response, and in the meantime, Subrogation had threatened her with a collection agency (a standard tactic).

Finally, Subrogation Management contacted USAA and a claim was processed. She will be liable for a $500 deductible, she says.

I’m disappointed in this outcome, not just because I hate to lose, but because I think this case should have gone Lewis’ way. In reviewing the documentation provided by Payless, I did not see a repair estimate or a photo documenting the damage — just a bill.

What’s more, $1,994 seems like a lot to pay for a few dings.

I have some firsthand experience with threatening, litigious readers.

I think the tactics rarely work. Sure, some consumers will roll over and play dead when you take a matter to collections or declare, “I’ll sue.” But others will fight, and our legal system allows for a matter like this to drag on for years. Subrogation would have to weigh the cost benefit of pursuing this further.

And $1,994 isn’t worth taking to any court.

Personally, I think Lewis should have kept fighting, and I would have gladly helped. But USAA has already paid Payless.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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