Rental car damaged after being cut off by a resort van

When Chuck Berg tried to maneuver his way back to the Le Méridien in Phuket, Thailand, on a recent visit, he ran into a little problem: a rock on the side of the road, which dented the side of his rental car.

Berg thinks Le Méridien should cover the $175 deductible because the accident wouldn’t have happened without an unfortunate series of circumstances to which the resort’s employees contributed.

Today’s “can this trip be saved” case will force us to draw a line between a hotel’s liability and a guest’s personal responsibility. And I should warn you, this is not an easy one.

It was their last night at the Le Méridien, and Berg and his wife were returning to the resort after dark. Just outside the property, the road narrowed. “We had to slowly creep down a very narrow street with cars parked along each side,” Berg explains.

He adds,

We were just getting around the last of several cars on the driver’s side when a shuttle van from the resort came the other way.

I expected him to wait for us to clear the last car, but he didn’t – he pushed his way past us, honking his horn and forcing me to move out of his way.

Since I was moving very slowly, the guards at the gate waved at us to keep moving forward, suggesting that we were “clear” on both sides of the car. But we weren’t. I ended up hitting a rock on the side of the road, damaging the side panel of the car.

Problem is, Berg didn’t know it at the time. “We heard the bump but I thought we hit something on the bottom,” he told me.

When he pulled into the parking lot, it was too dark to see any damage on his rental car. It wasn’t until the next morning that he noticed the scratches on his vehicle.

Berg spoke with an assistant manager at the resort, who reviewed the damage and told him there nothing he would do. Berg reminded him that he was a good customer — a Starwood Vacation owner and Gold Level Members of the Starwood Preferred Guest program — and suggested that this wasn’t the right way to end an otherwise wonderful stay at his property.

“But he insisted there was nothing he could or would do,” he says.

So Berg asked me for help.

My first suggestion: start a paper trail. I recommended he send a brief, polite email to the hotel.

Here’s its response:

We, at Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort have thoroughly investigated the case you reported to us on the morning of 28 October 2011, but have been unable to find any evidence of a collision near the main gate on the public road leading to our resort at approximately 9.30pm on the 27 October 2011.

Our Hotel Coach drivers and security team were, as you also described, completely unaware of any collision that may have occurred.

That being said, we understand that you are disappointed and feel that our associates and the security company were somehow careless in their duties.

Please be assured that we have spent considerable time with our drivers and the security company management sharing your complaint and concerns. Both have taken note of your comments and will endeavor to provide a higher standard of service in the future.

Guest safety is very important to us and we thank you for sharing your ideas for improvement with us. I regret that we cannot compensate you for this one-vehicle accident as we do not recognise any liability in this instance. We hope that this experience will not deter you from visiting us again in the near future.

In other words, no.

Berg thinks that response is absurd.

First, by saying that a “higher standard of service” is called for, he accepts that the incident probably happened as I described, and his staff had a contributing role in causing it. So why shouldn’t he accept some responsibility for it?

Second, by referring to this as a “one-vehicle accident” he suggests that I would have been better off colliding with the van rather than the rock.

I recommended Berg appeal to Starwood, which owns the Le Méridien brand. He did.

Apparently Starwood Corporate was not satisfied with the response I received from Le Méridien either. I just received email from Jeremy Davie in their Corporate Consumer Affairs Division. He is sending a check for $150 to cover the deductible we had to pay the car rental company. He is also depositing 10,000 point in our SPG Account.

And finally, when we next stay at a Starwood property, he has offered to work with the property manager to make it a memorable experience for us.

The response from Starwood came in shortly before this post was published. I had assumed — and so had Berg — that this was a lost cause, and I had already written something about this case, believing Starwood had given him its “final” answer about his rental car.

If Berg’s case hadn’t have been addressed at the corporate level, I’m not sure about my next move. Should I have advocated for him?

I have mixed feelings. If Berg heard a “bump” in his rental car then why didn’t he pull over right away and talk with the guard, ask to have a supervisor called and fill out an incident report? And if not there, then at least in the dark parking lot? By waiting a full day to report the damage, you severely reduce your chances of a positive outcome.

(Photo: chibi j918/Flickr)

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