Can this trip be saved? That’s one “hail” of a repair bill

You can drive your rental car extra-carefully — stay on paved roads, park in a garage and obey all traffic laws — but you still can’t control the weather. That’s the somewhat obvious but no less unfortunate lesson learned by Yolanda Liu when she rented from Payless Car Rental in Denver.

Liu’s vehicle got caught in a hail storm, and now Payless wants her to pay $813 for the damages. Is insisting on it, actually. The last notice from Payless’ claims agency, Subrogation Management Team, demands full payment immediately or her case will be “turned over to a national collection agency.” (See undated photo of the alleged damage, above.)

For a car rental company perspective on claims, check out this interview with another subrogation company from a few weeks ago.

This isn’t as straightforward as some of the other car rental cases I’ve featured on this site, as you’ll see in just a minute.

It all makes me wonder: Should a car rental company, or its insurance company, ever cover an act of God that was completely beyond the control of one of its customers? (You’ll recall that a few years ago, car rental companies changed their terms so that renters would be responsible for any damage caused by weather or natural disasters.)

And how much documentation should be reasonably required in order to pay a claim?

Here’s what happened to Liu: When she rented the car last summer, she turned down the optional collision-damage waiver because she already had car insurance.

During the three-day rental period, there was a rain storm with hail in the Denver metro area — which is common during the summer — but the car was never damaged or involved in any accident.

When I returned the car, a counter agent inspected the car and did not notify me of any damages.

Later that month, I received a call from a representative at “Subrogation Management Department” and she said Payless had found “hail damage” on the car I rented. I asked her where the “damages” were located, she claimed they were all over the body, but she said they were really difficult to see from the photos.

Then she emailed me the claim and photos of the vehicle. There is no sign of hail damages, except the yellow pen marks made by Payless. Moreover, the claim did not include a professional evaluation of these hail damages, nor did it include any documents on loss of use and my acknowledgment of the damages.

Liu asked Payless for proof that the vehicle was damaged while in her possession, documentation of any loss of use, a contact at the repair shop and any documents signed by her which acknowledged the hail damage. In response, she received the following note:

The car has not been repaired. If you wish to send someone to look at the vehicle, please let me know and I can arrange it for you. We have provided all of the necessary documents for this claim and cannot send any more proof of the damages.

So Payless is charging her for a car that hasn’t been repaired? It won’t give her the name of the body shop, can’t show her the paperwork and it took them several weeks to “discover” the damage to her car?

I can see why Liu would have a problem paying this claim.

Now, to be sure, she should have done a few things differently. Like taking a picture of the car, before and after. Or getting the Payless associate to conduct an inspection when she returned it, and asking a representative to sign the receipt to acknowledge the car was damage-free.

Liu’s car insurance company will almost certainly refuse to pay a questionable case with “iffy” documentation, so it’s little wonder that Payless and Subrogation Management are coming after her.

And yet, if the damage happened while the car was in her possession, shouldn’t she be responsible for it?

What do you think? Should I mediate this case?

A quick poll of 800 readers showed a hugely overwhelming number (98.5 percent) thought so. I’ll get right on it.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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