Betty Caldwell has a mysterious tale to tell. She says she was injured after her rental car drove away without her — twice! And now she wants someone to pay for her injuries. But who?
Caldwell’s story begins in the parking lot of a motel where she was staying. She parked her Dollar rental car, a Chevrolet Cruze and started to walk away. What she says happened next could be a great plotline in a Stephen King novel.
The car drove away without her — twice!
I parked the Chevy Cruze in the motel parking lot, which is on a slope. Then I placed it in “park” and turned it off. I got out and locked it. The car spontaneously started to move forward, up the slope! I feared it was going to crash into a window of the motel. It stopped when it came to the asphalt curb on the edge of the lot.
I can’t imagine the confusion I would feel as my car turned itself on and started moving on its own. I would probably look around for cameras, wondering if Candid Camera had been revived. But that wasn’t the end of the car’s possession:
As it was sitting still, I opened the door to make sure it was still in “park” and turned off. Standing beside the car, with the open door behind me, I realized the car had started rolling backward, picking up speed as it moved. With the open door at my back, I could not simply stop or step out of the way. So I ran beside the car until I fell and was dragged for 10-15 feet as the car moved into the road. It turned and stopped when it hit the curb.
Caldwell says the motel management called emergency services for her. She suffered abdominal abrasions and bruised ribs, knees, arms and legs. The accident had also ruined her down jacket.
Is this mysterious rental car accident the responsibility of Dollar?
After the incident, Caldwell called Dollar. She reported that the “electronic ignition system spontaneously started the engine with no intervention on my part. The car drove away without me.”
Caldwell asked Dollar to reimburse her for the rental, the amount she paid for the emergency services call and first aid supplies. And she also wanted the cost of her down jacket. The total she requested from Dollar was $948.
The company refused to take Caldwell’s word that there was something wrong with the car. It wanted proof that the spontaneous car movement wasn’t caused by user error or negligence. But Caldwell didn’t have any evidence to support her claim.
Although the motel employees had called emergency personnel, no one alerted the police to this odd car rental accident. Caldwell says that since there was no damage to the rental car or to other property, no police report existed.
Why didn’t anyone call the police to report this accident?
But there were injuries, which usually prompts a call to police long before car damage.
Without a police report, Dollar was skeptical about Caldwell’s claim that the car moved on its own. But it offered her another option for confirming her claim. Caldwell could pay to have the car inspected by mechanics. If those mechanics confirmed a problem with the car, Dollar would pay her claim and reimburse for the cost of the inspection.
Surprisingly, Caldwell refused. Instead, she reached out to the Elliott Advocacy team.
Caldwell told our executive director, Michelle Couch-Friedman that Dollar should have the car inspected.
“It’s Dollar’s responsible for providing safe cars and addressing any mechanical problems,” Caldwell insisted. “It was not up to me to assume that responsibility.”
She also told Michelle that she had faced hard-to-diagnose mechanical problems with her own car in the past. This made her reluctant to pay to have the rental car inspected.
Michelle asked Caldwell the same questions that Dollar asked her. Did she have a police report or any other proof that there was something wrong with the vehicle? Obviously, she didn’t. She wanted Dollar — and our advocacy team — to take her word for it.
“A number of people witnessed this accident,” Caldwell persisted. “I would give more weight to the actual experience and subsequent injury then the chance of finding a definitive mechanical issue on a given day in a small town with limited resources for car repairs.”
No proof that this car drove away on its own
There is a problem with the claim that the incident was “witnessed by a number of people.” Caldwell never claims that any of these people were with her when she turned off the car and put it in park. And she provided no witness statements. I have no doubt they saw the car move, but she provided no proof that the car was the problem. All evidence points to user error.
I did a quick Google search on problems with the Chevrolet Cruze. The majority of complaints date back to 2011 or earlier, but none are related to the car spontaneously starting on its own. If it had been an ongoing, recurrent problem that had previously been documented, Caldwell might have had a case even though she never had this car inspected and didn’t file a police report.
She could have reached out to the Hertz contacts we list on our site (the parent company of Dollar). But I don’t think she would have any better luck with the executives, in the absence of any verifiable proof.
While we are very sorry for Caldwell’s injuries, we can’t help her with this case. We’ll have to close this novel without a “happily ever after.”