A bankruptcy court judge was scheduled to hear arguments on Thursday regarding claims filed by dozens of Hertz customers who say they were falsely arrested – and in some cases jailed – because the company reported that the cars they had leased had been stolen.
The car rental giant, which recentlyinsists that virtually all complaints are “unfounded” and says they should not be allowed to proceed for various technical reasons.
One of the plaintiffs, James Tolen, said a surprise road stop in Houston late last year turned into a frightening encounter with police that made him fear for his life. After completing a project for one of his home improvement company’s clients, Tolen was returning home on December 23 in a van rented from Hertz.
He and his fiancee, Krystal Carter, who is also a claimant, say they had rented froma dozen times in the past year, but that hasn’t stopped him from being arrested by police for driving a car reported stolen by the company. At around 10 p.m. that evening, the police arrested him and ordered him to get out of the car over the loudspeaker, telling him to lift his shirt and back up to them.
“As I turn around, I see the two agents pointing their guns at me,” Tolen told CBS News correspondent Anna Werner.
“It was just terrifying. It was bad. I actually really didn’t think I was going to come home,” he said.
Tolen said police handcuffed him and then told him he was driving a stolen car.
“I thought, ‘It’s impossible. I’m renting from Hertz. I’m an entrepreneur,'” he recalls, telling the police.
Tolen begged officers to look at his rental agreement, in which he said he was on the list of authorized drivers. He says after seeing the document, one of the agents called Hertz and told the company they needed a better system.
Carter and Tolen say they later found out that the rented car had been reported stolen by Hertz three months earlier.
“I was hot. Hot,” Carter said. “Like, we rented from them several times that year. Several.”
Tolen and Carter are two of 165 Hertz customers nationwide with claims pending in bankruptcy court. The claims were stayed until the company’s Louisiana bankruptcy case was completed.
Hertz declined to do an interview but released a statement saying that he “cares deeply about our customers and that we successfully provide rental vehicles to tens of millions of travelers every year.
“Unfortunately, in the legal issues under discussion, lawyers have a habit of making baseless allegations that blatantly distort the facts,” the company said. “The vast majority of these cases involve tenants who were several weeks or even several months late in returning vehicles and who stopped contacting us well beyond the due date. Situations where vehicles are reported to authorities are very rare and only occur after exhaustive attempts to reach the customer. ”
As to removing police reports after payment is made or vehicle returned, Hertz told the Philadelphia Inquirer last year that the reports were valid when they were filed and “it’s up to law enforcement. to decide what to do with the case “.
Another plaintiff is Philadelphia-area contractor John Ayoub, who leased a truck from Hertz in April 2019. He said he told Hertz agents that it would be a long-term rental and that ‘he was told to call every week to extend it, which he says he did. .
“I would call. I would extend. They would bill it. I would see it. And they would say, ‘You’re good to go until next Monday,'” he told CBS News.
But on May 28, Hertz filed a theft report, just four days after laying a charge of $ 2,300, according to court documents. And even though the $ 2,300 was paid into Ayoub’s bank account the next day, Hertz did not pull out that police report, he said.
On June 2, he was arrested right outside his home and charged with a felony.
“Everything has become a mess, just a disaster,” he said.
After learning Ayoub paid for the car, his lawyer said, prosecutors dropped the charges.
In his defense, Hertz also claimed that lawyers representing plaintiffs “are accustomed to making baseless allegations that blatantly distort the facts.”
In response to Hertz’s allegations of misrepresentation of the facts by the opposing party, plaintiffs’ attorney, Francis Alexander Malofiy, said Hertz was “trying to cover up” what he called “a corporate disaster.”
“They’ve been aware of this for years, and instead of doing the right thing and tackling it, they’re trying to sweep it under the rug, even in bankruptcy,” essentially turning legitimate tenants into criminals , did he declare.