I was uninsured. But it's irrelevant to my point.
April 28, 2008 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Ok, well, it turns out Dollar Rent A Car wants to take me to court for the $1000. (see: this question) I plan to file in small claims court before they can take me to court because I think that will give me a better chance of winning. However, I only want to discuss who is responsible for the $1000 and not whether or not I was insured at the time. Help!

If you don't have time to read my previous question which gives the background info:
* I was driving a rental car from Portland, OR to Idaho when someone pulled out in front of me on the highway. She was cited, I was not. I have a copy of the police report.
* Her parents' insurance co. (SafeCo) paid the balance of the market value of the rental car minus the salvage sale price, to the tune of over $11,000. No bodily injuries for any parties involved, luckily.
* A little over $1000 of the bill remains, which SafeCo says it will not pay because it is for "excessive towing charges." SafeCo did not specify their cap for towing charges, only that in this case they were "excessive."
* The bill for towing the car back to Portland contains no identifying info on the car ----no VIN, no make/model, no date, no total # of miles it was towed, nada! It only has the towing co's name, and a total price. This is the legal reason I plan to present in court of why I am refusing to pay the outstanding amount.
* BUT, I was not insured at the time. I don't own a car so I didn't have a policy of my own (and I declined Dollar's addt'l coverage, which wouldn't have helped with excessive towing charges anyway). So, yes, I was stupid. Agreed.

But help me to NOT make it worse by admitting in court that I was uninsured. Hopefully it won't even come up. (Of course if I am asked directly I will not lie.)

I wrote a letter to Dollar (after a phone consult with an atty) and told them I was not responsible for the above-named reasons, mostly that their towing receipt could be considered forged at worst and null at best. They countered with their standard response of "Your name is on the contract and you WILL pay! See you in court. Mwa haha!"

Cut to: small claims court----how do I frame my argument without mentioning that I was uninsured? I want to leave that piece of info out of the picture entirely if possible. According to a couple of quick searches, driving while unisured in OR means losing your license for a year. I don't know if this means being cited for no insurance (logical, right?) or if I could possibly incur the same penalty if it is brought up in small claims court even though it is not relevant to who pays the remaining $1000 and it's almost six months after the accident. I was not cited for being uninsured at the time of the accident.

If it does come up, is there anything I can say to help my position?

Also, if there's anything else in this puzzle I'm missing, feel free to address that, too. Thanks! I'm just trying to be prepared. My only other foray into small claims court was ruled in my favor because the other party didn't show up.

P.S. Am I right in thinking that if I win a judgment in small claims court, saying I am not responsible for the $1000, that it will apply to any future case they try to bring against me?
posted by hulahulagirl to Law & Government (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Uh, I think it's a really bad idea to be broadcasting the name of your corporate adversary and openly discussing your legal strategy and the weaknesses of your position on the Web.

You really think Dollar is not going to find out about this post?
posted by jayder at 8:21 PM on April 28, 2008

But I think your lack of insurance is not relevant to your liability under the contract, so I don't think you have to worry about it.
posted by jayder at 8:23 PM on April 28, 2008

You need a lawyer. You should have already contacted one over this mess.

Try and find a free or low cost legal clinic in your town. Some of your reasoning above is very specious and will likely get you laughed out of court.
posted by wfrgms at 8:27 PM on April 28, 2008

Best answer: You need a lawyer. You should have already contacted one over this mess.

Oregon doesn't allow lawyers in small claims court without the court's express consent. While this may have been useful in the OP previous question, it does little to help them now. Plus, it sounds like the OP already contacted a lawyer over the phone.

Try and find a free or low cost legal clinic in your town.

This, however, is useful advice. It looks like Lewis & Clark has a clinic that might be able to help you.
posted by Nelsormensch at 8:50 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: wfrgms, that's what my question was about. My legal reasoning for not paying the $1000 is that, even if I was responsible for paying it, I am not going to pay a bill off of a receipt that is nearly blank. Please explain the reasoning that is specious----I am intelligent person, but not a lawyer, so I would like to know where you see fault. In fact, I contacted a lawyer. She advised me to do everything I stated above and said it would not be worth the money to actually hire a lawyer since the bill is only $1000.

jayder, I agree, posting names may not be all that smart. Noted. But, honestly, what are they going to use against me? Worst case scenario?
posted by hulahulagirl at 8:50 PM on April 28, 2008

Look. A receipt is a receipt is a receipt. The judge isn't going to split hairs over what looks funny or not. He's only concerned about the claim. He may not even look at the receipt.

I mean, what exactly is your argument? That the rental company is going before a court of law with false documents? Come on.
posted by wfrgms at 8:55 PM on April 28, 2008

not remotely giving advice here (in part because I can't quite make out your fact pattern) but it SOUNDS like you're saying that.... Dollar has announced that they're coming after you for the $1,000 they paid to the towing company? so you want to... file a case in small claims court to try to thwart them? Generally, filing a lawsuit means that you believe you have been injured and are owed restitution by the other party.... you can't file in small claims court for an Order That You Are Right And They Are Wrong. If they say you owe them - then it's up to them what venue to pursue that in.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:02 PM on April 28, 2008

Forgive me if I'm wrong here, but I am confused about something. (IANAL)

Your main reason for not paying is because the towing receipt is not detailed enough? So if the judge asks you if Dollar's claim that the car was towed is accurate, you will say, yes it was, but this receipt is invalid? Moreover, if Joe from Joe's Towing shows up with a proper receipt (or perhaps signs an affidavit saying that the charges are accurate), you then have nothing preventing you from paying, so you'll pay up and be on your way?

I will admit that I have little knowledge of legal matters. But common sense tells me that you need better reasons and a better argument. Think about what you are conceding and what you are disputing. It should be black and white. For example:
- Facts of the accident, who's at fault, etc: not in dispute (therefore your police report isn't needed)
- Facts of who did the towing and where too: not in dispute -- right?
- Legality of the towing charge -- in dispute
- Contractual obligation to pay any legal towing charges -- well? that's the sticky one, what do you say here?

I feel like you're betting on the wrong horse here. I don't know what a information a towing receipt needs in order to be legal, but really all it is is a record that money changed hands, right? And if both sides agree that the money did indeed change hands, then the receipt is irrelavant and someone is on the hook for that money. Are you seriously going to get up in front of a judge and accuse a national rental car chain of forging their expenses? Please please see a lawyer.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:10 PM on April 28, 2008

oh by the way I agree with moxiedoll. I was going to say that I didn't think you could file a "pre-emptive suit". You have to be the wronged party in some way. As is my understanding. But I'm a layman and I could be wrong.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:12 PM on April 28, 2008

>This is the legal reason I plan to present in court of why I am refusing to pay the outstanding amount.

Are you saying that the towing didn't happen, as evidenced by the incomplete receipt?
posted by pompomtom at 9:15 PM on April 28, 2008

have you tried sending the bill for $1000 to the chick who caused the accident?
posted by randomstriker at 9:38 PM on April 28, 2008

I don't think your plan will work, you can't take someone to small claims court to stop someone from suing you in real court, and in order to be successful there, you'd need to somehow convince the judge that they owed you the money.

It seems like the driver of the other car ought to be responsible, not you, but you'd have to sue them in order get the money. If you don't want to pay for a lawyer, just go to court (when they sue you) and say that you don't think you should have to pay because you didn't cause the accident. But, really you should at least consult a real lawyer.
posted by delmoi at 9:59 PM on April 28, 2008

Response by poster: wfrgms & pompomtom--I'm saying I don't know that the receipt I was given was for the car that was wrecked, because it doesn't contain any information... Why would I pay for something without a complete receipt that says what I'm paying for? I'm not nitpicking and saying, Oh it's missing this particular info and this info...I have a copy of a receipt with a dollar amount and no other information tying it to this case. Not even a date for when the towing happened.

randomstriker--I sent a copy of the letter to Dollar to the other party. But since their insurance has already paid out, and the excessive towing charges were incurred by Dollar (they chose to have it towed back to Portland instead of 2 other closer locations)...I really don't see that happening. Maybe, though.

moxiedoll--perhaps you're right and small claims court is not the correct route for this. My only other experience with this was several years ago when a co. said I had not canceled my membership and wanted me to pay the outstanding balance on the contract. I took them to small claims court (in Missouri) to show that I was not responsible for the charges and the judge ruled in my favor (by default), saying I was no longer on the hook for the remainder of the contract. I was thinking this might work in this case as well.

I appreciate the advice to see/retain a lawyer, but for only $1000, and as a FT worker and PT student, that's not in my budget. $1000 means less than 5 hours work from an atty and that won't get me far. I will check into the Lewis & Clark link, thank you Nelsormensch.
posted by hulahulagirl at 10:01 PM on April 28, 2008

Well, in a court case you might as well challenge everything. Challenge the receipt - if Dollar fails to justify the expense, you might win. Very small chance, but not something you want to dismiss.

The much stronger attack, however, is that the amount is *unreasonable*. A $1000 tow is beyond belief - did they really not have a nearby Dollar they could have towed it to, or a nearby claims office for their own insurance?

Second to that, Dollar should be going after the party that caused the damage, namely the other driver. While the other driver's insurance has balked, Dollar has not exhausted their option of going after the driver directly or suing the other driver's insurance for redress. You didn't damage the car - if the other driver's insurance had balked at, say, repairing the car, would you be in the hook for it? I don't think so.
posted by zippy at 10:20 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was going to say that I didn't think you could file a "pre-emptive suit". You have to be the wronged party in some way.

Well, there is a thing called a "declaratory judgment," where the court simply adjudicates the parties' legal rights without awarding damages--in fact, no one needs to have suffered damages at all.

I don't think any of us know if the small claims courts in hulahulagirl's state can provide such relief.

I don't think your plan will work, you can't take someone to small claims court to stop someone from suing you in real court, and in order to be successful there, you'd need to somehow convince the judge that they owed you the money.

Assuming one can bring a suit for a declaratory judgment (or something analogous) in the relevant small claims court, it seems quite possible that a judgment that hulahulagirl was not liable would trigger "collateral estoppal," precluding relitigation of that issue in a different court.

I think until someone can speak more definitively, we should stop telling her that this won't work. The idea isn't crazy, and the answer will come down to details about the powers of the small claims courts.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:52 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You weren't uninsured.

The LDW is not insurance, and declining it does not equal being uninsured. In most rental vehicle agreements, this will appear in capital letters: I UNDERSTAND THAT LDW IS NOT INSURANCE.

Rental loss/damage waivers are essentially a wager between you and the rental car company. They won this time.

Your options are:
- pay up
- get the other driver to pay up (send a bill. Then sue her and the owner of the car she was driving if she doesn't pay.)
- argue that the charges are excessive and need to be reduced. Then pay those charges.

Your agreement will say that you are liable for these charges. Have you looked at it in detail? My last rental agreement (different company) states that I am responsible for every charge, including estimated cost of repairs, towing, storage, impound fees, etc. etc. etc. regardless of fault, and these charges may be reduced (n.b.; MAY and REDUCED -- not guaranteed, not eliminated) by purchasing the waiver. That leaves the leftover charges after LDW payout squarely on the renter's tab. That also means that legally, if I were in your position, I would be on the hook for the entire cost of the accident. You are lucky the other driver's insurance covered that.

Furthermore, it states that even if I pay for the LDW, I understand that it shall be void where permitted by law. This essentially says that I understand they will do anything and everything in their power to NOT pay out, even if I "win" our "bet".

Don't bother with small claims court. You do not have a case. There are no damages against you, just a bill and a threat of legal action. You'll waste your fifty bucks even filing. I'm not saying it's fair or good, or that they aren't a pack of vampires, just that your situation does not seem to meet the legal requirements, as set out in Oregon statutes, for a small claims filing.

If you do plan to let this go to court (which will be for their suit, not small claims) make sure you understand all this stuff as it is laid out in your own rental contract. Their lawyers do this all day every day, and they know all the terms. They will eat you.

Try making them an offer based on a tow charge from the site to a reasonable location in Walla Walla. Get quotes from a couple or three tow companies. I guarantee they will turn you down, but this may help you with a reduction in charges as ordered by a judge.

I would bill the other driver. You're still responsible for the tow charge, but you can recover it from her. Here's where you can use small claims court.
posted by Sallyfur at 12:23 AM on April 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Are you sure you're not getting ahead of yourself here? Has Dollar actually filed a suit yet?

My guess is that it would cost them well over a $1000 to file and send their lawyer if you actually defended yourself. There is a decent chance that they are just threatening you in the hope that you will pay on your own. I would wait and see if they actually file.
posted by ihyperion at 1:19 AM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Chances are Dollar will not take you to a court for $1000.
They may charge your credit card that was used when you picked the car up.
- In which case, you may ask your credit card company to deny the $1000 charge.
- the credit card co. will investigate the issue for few weeks and make the determination.
- chances are about 50/50

What you really should do... is

A. Call your credit card company and see if your card has some sort of automatic car-rental insurance::: now days almost all cards has some sort of rental protections built in even if it is not Platinum or Gold cards.

B. Technically, you can take the other driver to small claims court for the $1000. (Not the rental co.) (((It does not matter what kind of insurance system the state has)))
Usually, You write/call the other driver yourself and give her some kind of invoice/bill for $1000. If she protests... threaten her to take her to small claims court.. Chance much better for you to re-coop $500 to $1000 from her (by her or by the court) **especially since it was her fault.
posted by curiousleo at 2:07 AM on April 29, 2008

I won't get into the legal aspects of your case, but want to reinforce Sallyfur's statement that you weren't uninsured. The insurance you are required to have is liability insurance and it is provided by the rental company; the "insurance" they try to sell you at the counter is just another way for them to pad their bottom line; it might not have covered the towing charge in this case. Here is a good page from the NY attorney general on the topic of rental car insurance. Washington state might be a little different, but the laws are pretty similar nationally.
posted by TedW at 4:50 AM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I hope you're not spending too much psychic energy on this. As others have mentioned, they say *you* owe *them* $1000. It's up to them to come after you and get it. The burden of proof will be on them.

You had a lawyer tell you it's not worth the trouble over $1000? Will it be worth it for them? I find it more likely they'll just send it to a debt collector - perhaps a debt collecting attorney.
posted by GPF at 6:06 AM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

the credit card co. will investigate the issue for few weeks and make the determination

Winning a chargeback does not mean that she's off the hook. If they don't get the money from her one way, they can try another—litigation.
posted by oaf at 6:08 AM on April 29, 2008

I've watched enough day-time "court" tv(yes, I know it's really just dressed up arbitration) to know little-to-nothing about real small claims court. With that said, I think you should attempt to collect from the girl who caused the accident, or her family. If they refuse to pay up, then take them to court. Or take them on a day-time "court" tv show.

Seriously, even if your rental contract says you are on the hook for the excessive towing fee, you should be able to build a case for the judge to pass that on to the other party who is actually responsible for causing the accident.
posted by owtytrof at 8:13 AM on April 29, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your help.

After reading over all of your advice, I think my best course of action is to wait and see if they take this to court--- and then if I am found to be responsible for the amount I will try to make the other party pay. Also, good idea with calling to get tow quotes---one of the crazy things about it is Dollar says they had to tow it back to PDX, but there are at least 2 closer Dollar locations from the site of the accident. Re: other coverage---I did call my credit card company but they don't offer car rental insurance, at least not for the card I have.

Also, yes I am confused about being uninsured because I didn't have a policy of my own when I denied their LDW coverage. I find it troubling that if a person is required to have their own policy to rent a car, the car co. doesn't ask to see (or has never asked of me, anyway) proof of insurance. I've read the contract many times and searched for OR law regarding insurance/uninsured motorists, and I'm still not clear on the legal requirements for car rental companies. But it sounds like that will probably be ancillary to the rest of the case.

Thanks again.
posted by hulahulagirl at 8:34 AM on April 29, 2008

Okay, the $1000 isn't going to go away quickly, even if they don't take you to court. Most likely it will just be sent to collections and you'll get phone calls about it and it will sit on your credit record for several years.

You can approach this one of several ways.

1. Ignore it until it turns up on your credit record, then use the poor quality receipt to dispute the debt. That puts the onus on Dollar to prove that you owe the money.

2. Try and collect from the other driver. If you get any money, try and negotiate with Dollar to accept that money as payment in full.

3. Ignore the whole thing and accept that it will affect your credit. Not recommended if you plan on trying to get a mortgage in the next 5 years or so.

Good luck.
posted by happyturtle at 9:34 AM on April 29, 2008

For what it's worth,Portland, Oregon's towing industry is notorious for over-charging and other very shady business practices, so I don't know if you'll get any consideration for a questionable tow receipt. (Ever see that episode of COPS where the tow driver was legally able to add a $50 "temper fee" to a person's tab because the guy cussed him out?)
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:52 AM on April 29, 2008

Late to the party, but here goes anyhow...

"one of the crazy things about it is Dollar says they had to tow it back to PDX, but there are at least 2 closer Dollar locations from the site of the accident."

In many jurisdictions, and for many different things, "failure to mitigate damages" is an affirmative defense. In essence, the logic goes like this: I did something to harm you, but you made it worse, and I'm not going to pay for the extra you tacked on. This may apply here depending on why they "had" to tow it to PDX. A lawyer can help with this.

Second, keep in mind that they might (depending on Oregon rules of court) be allowed to sue YOU in small claims court. If they sue you in big boy court, call your lawyer. My gut reaction is that if they do, indeed, sue you in civil court (as opposed to small claims) the most expeditious route to follow is to join the girl who hit you as a third-party defendant but this is not territory easily navigable by a layperson. (Call a lawyer)

Even if they DO sue you in Small Claims, you may be able to have the case moved to civil court in order to implead the girl who hit you. (To do this, you should hire a lawyer.)

I am not a lawyer and I'm certainly not yours. This is not legal advice. You're mileage may vary. Do not use if safety seal is broken. Do not feed the animals. Only you can prevent forest fires.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:34 PM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

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