Case dismissed: The valet service damaged our rental, but we got the bill

Car rental damage cases are usually disputes between two parties — the renter and the agency. But not always.

Ron Goldstein recently rented a car from Thrifty in Los Angeles. He left the car with a parking valet at the DoubleTree by Hilton Guest Suites Santa Monica. It’s a decent hotel about a block from where the 10 freeway ends, and street parking isn’t really an option.

And then things took a turn for the worse.

He explains,

When we were leaving the hotel, we noticed the front bumper had been damaged by the valet and filed a damage report with the hotel and valet service. Also, took pictures of the damages.

When we returned the car to Thrifty, we filled out the damage report and their subrogation department sent us a bill. We explained the situation, that the valet service was at fault, and they said Thrifty would bill the service.

In other words, the car rental agency agreed to take up the matter with DoubleTree’s valet service. I’ve never heard of a damage claim being handled in that way, and I think it’s nice of Thrifty to consider a third party in this claim. Unfortunately, DoubleTree’s valet didn’t pay up.

Four months later we get a nasty collections call from Thrifty saying that they did not get payment from the valet
service and that if we did not pay the bill it would go to collections and we would be put on a national “no rent” list.

Is this a common occurrence and have you heard of others having this issue?

The answer is, no. It’s very uncommon, to have a claim handled in this way. Hotel valet services don’t like to pay claims, and the responsibility for any damage to a rental car is with the driver, ultimately.

I did, however, think it was worth contacting Thrifty about this case. Maybe it had additional information about Goldstein’s first damage claim that led it to take the matter up with DoubleTree.

A representative shared Thrifty’s conclusions:

Although our subrogation team agreed to contact the third party as a service gesture, the claim remains the responsibility of the renter.

The hotel has not responded to our requests to assist with the claim. Unfortunately, Mr. Goldstein will have to negotiate the claim and pursue the hotel on his own accord.

So Thrifty was just being nice about this claim, at least initially. DoubleTree stonewalled their request to pay up, and the responsibility for the bill reverts back to Goldstein.

If the valet service acknowledged the responsibility for the damage, and there’s a paper trail to prove that it did, then Goldstein should have no trouble convincing it to pay. He might apply a little pressure by contacting one of DoubleTree’s executives.

I would be a little put off by a “nasty” collections call from Thrifty and the threat of being placed on a “do not rent” list. But let’s take a closer look at both points made by the caller. If this goes on Goldstein’s credit report, the damage would probably be minimal. Collection agencies have a tendency to exaggerate the likely effects of a dispute and routinely omit important information about your rights.

As for the “no-rent” list — puh-leeze! There are plenty of other car rental companies out there. That’s the equivalent of a customer saying, “I’ll never fly on your airline again!” As if that will make the company change its mind. (It won’t.)

I’m handing this off to DoubleTree and its valet service, which should pay for the fender bender.

(Photo: hij ukal/Flickr)

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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  • deemery

    On one of my very first trips, I drove to a hotel for a week long conference.  The hotel only had valet parking, so I gave my car to the valet Sunday night.  When I went to check out the following Saturday, the car was gone.  It took Arlington VA and DC police almost 3 weeks to figure out the car had probably been stolen Sunday night, towed by DC police Wednesday, and reported stolen in Arlington 3 days later.  There was a big reception going on at that hotel when I checked in, with Mercedes, Jaguars, Cadillacs, etc; and some tasteless so-and-so stole my Plymouth Horizon Miser!!!  (I suspect the valet parked it somewhere ‘temporarily’ with the keys in it.)  If I knew then what I know now, I would have been all over the hotel for reimbursement.

  • Raven

    Ah, “collection agency” threats, especially those that are calling the wrong person. There are some fun ways to handle those. I give one “Sorry, I’ve never done business with Bank One. Don’t call me again.” After that, it’s fun time. 

    Maybe start with “What is your home phone number?” 
    (The agent will likely sputter and wonder why you’re asking.) 
    “Because, I mean, if you’re going to call me and harass me, I figure I can do the same to you. Maybe I’ll threaten to get your kids taken away. I’m a family court judge! Maybe I’ll just come to your house and take away your car! I’m a tow truck driver!”

    Bank One called me continually for a month looking for someone with a similar name. No matter how many times I told them I wasn’t the person I they were looking for, the calls continued and became ruder.

    So, I started fighting fire with fire and screaming, whistling, calling names, whenever they called. I sent a certified letter to the office of the president and finally, 2 weeks after they received it, the calls stopped.

    But to this day, I bash Bank One. Never do business with these clowns. 

  • Sam Varshavchik

    What I don’t understand is why he only “filed a damage report with the hotel and valet service”. If you get into an accident, the only kind of a report you are obligated to file is the one with the police.

    If I found myself in the same situation, that’s the first thing I would do — call the police, have them come out, and take the report. A police report, on file, carries far more weight than some internal paperwork than the very same party that caused the damage — and keeping good records of it I don’t think would be their top priority — will just throw away and forget at the bottom of some locked cabinet, collecting dust in a disused lavatory in their office building’s basement, with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.

    I’m fairly sure that a small claims action would be the only avenue of approach. I fail to see what possible motivation the valet service has to pay up, now. They have nothing to lose by stalling and dragging their feet, and hoping that this would go away. And, since this happened far from home, I presume, this would be quite a pain.

    But, with a police report on file, at least, I can go back and examine all the fine print on the rental contract. It probably says something along the lines that unless you purchase the liability waiver you assume all damage, yadda yadda. But I would look for any kind of ambiguous wording or phrasing, that I can use in my favor. It’s an established principle that if there’s any ambiguity in a contract, the interpretation that holds is the least favorable one to the party that drew the contract — the rental place. With that, and a police report, you’re in a pretty good position to defend your claims that you’re not the responsible party.

  • emanon256

    I kept getting calls from a collection agency once for someone with a name not even remotely similar to mine.  It was when I moved and had a new number.  They kept asking me if I knew where that person was and I would insist I don’t even know who that person is, that they are calling the wrong number.  Then they got even worse and started calling more often and accusing me of hiding that person.  I finally filed a case with the BBB and got an apology letter in the mail from the collection agency and the calls stopped.  I am not sure who they were collecting on behalf of; they never actually did tell me.

  • emanon256

    I valet parked my own car recently and upon reading the ticket they gave me it stated that the valet company is not liable for an and all damage to my car while under their care, they are not liable for any items stolen from my car while under their care, they are not liable should my car be stolen or damaged while under their care, and that my handing them my keys I agree to release them from any and all claims for any damage to my car even if the damage is caused by the valet company or its employees.
    Unfortunately, they did not hand me this until they were already inside my car, and I didn’t read it until I got inside the restaurant.
    Fortunately my car was fine when I got it back, but how is that even legal? To release them from all damage by giving them my keys, but not telling me that I agreed to this until after they have my car?  Would there be no recourse if they damaged my car? It seems like they would need to disclose this before accepting my keys.  Should they have damaged my car, could I do anything, or I am I just out of luck?

  • AutoSlash

    It would be the same thing as if you lent your car to a friend or even if you brought it to a mechanic and it was damaged during a test drive.  If they damaged the vehicle, the right thing to do would be to offer to pay for the damage (or at least your out of pocket costs — i.e. your deductible), but neither one is under any legal obligation to pay.  You could try to take someone to court and sue (which in this case with the valet, I certainly would), but the real answer here is that this is what insurance is for.  

    Obviously the renter did not take the insurance from the rental company or this would be a non-issue.  Hopefully they had some sort of insurance through their credit card or they had a personal insurance policy that covers them while driving a car other than their own (many do).  If so, they should put in a claim through that.  If they were driving the rental car with no insurance whatsoever, then they were taking a calculated risk.  Even if they did nothing wrong (which is clearly the case with the valet damaging the vehicle), they could have gotten into an accident that wasn’t their fault, but they would have been similarly liable.

    Bottom line here is that they should go full-force against the hotel/valet–even taking them to court if necessary, but as a side issue, it highlights the need for proper insurance coverage when renting.  The insurance offered by the rental companies is often overpriced, but there are many other options as outlined below:

  • Jeff

    The valet company is not released from liability simply because they state it on a ticket.  They can say whatever they want on a claim ticket.  Liability ultimately has to do with whether they exercised reasonable care while they were in possession of the vehicle.

  • DavidS

    Interesting. Chris likes to push compnaies to go above and beyond. It appears Thrifty decided to do so and work with the hotel/valet to settle this claim, even though the responsibility lies with the renter. NOW, when the hotel/valet refuse to pay up, Thrifty goes after the renter.

    I agree the initial tactics may have been harsh and perhaps a more civil tone from Thrifty would have been in order. BUT, the bottom line is the OP is responsible for the damage to Thrifty and it is up to him to collect from the hotel/valet.  

    This is a great case where a company (Thrifty) decided to go above and beyond and got burned. Now they come after the OP. OP need to grow a pair, not let a collections agent hurt his feelings and settle this the right way.

    I also don’t agree with Chris claiming the ultimate responsibility on a rental car lies with the driver. I think it lies with the RENTER. Can you check the contract to verify?

  • Mark K

    Since every car I have rented lately from any rental company requires you to list everyone who may drive the vehicle during the rental period by name, isn’t allowing the valet who does not appear on the rental agreement  park the car violating the agreement you signed?   Hertz actually states in their document that if anyone other than the listed drivers drives your car that the insurance will not cover damage.  So if you bought the insurance thinking you would have been OK, then told the rental company the valet did it, you would still be on the hook for the repairs.  I don’t know if Thrifty has similar language.  But in the end, you rented it and if damage is actually done to the vehicle you pay for it.  

    I had to valet my car in San Francisco recently because it was the only option the hotel offered and there was nowhere else nearby that I could park.  I worried the entire time.  Luckily my car was not even scratched. 

    Damaging your vehicle and then claiming not their fault is one of the many reasons I hate valet parking (also smoking in the vehicle, taking all the loose change they find, leaving fast food garbage, putting an excessive number of miles on it, and so on).  The person doing the parking can do anything with your car while they have it and then claim any problem is not their fault.  I do see the point of the valet service of having the disclaimer because some people would claim every little dent or scratch on their vehicle was the fault of the valet no matter when or where the damage was done.  Unless the valet service would take pictures from every angle of every car they park, there would be no way to prove they did not cause the damage.  In this case it looks like the only option is for the OP to take the valet service and hotel to court.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    If the valets damaged the car and there was no street parking, I’ll go out on a limb and assume that the damage happened on private property.  In Nebraska, the police will not come out to take a report if the incident happened on private property.  I don’t know what the laws are of each state and can’t speak to this particular situation.  I agree that having a police report on file would add authority to the incident, but if the police won’t come nor produce a report, it’s a moot point. 

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    The hotel and their contracted valet service need to step up to the plate.  DoubleTree isn’t a rent by the hour hotel, it’s a top of the line location.  If they are going to offer valet service for their guests, they need to make sure their vehicles are safe.  Additionally, the valet service needs to assume more responsibility for the actions of their employees.

    For me, this is an easy fix…  We have a legal plan through my husband’s employer.  A letter to the offending party costs us nothing and has been effective in the past.  The valet service is at fault, they are the ones who should be paying the damage claim.  I also feel the hotel should be fighting for their guest.

  • djp

    Something I dont understand….why even rent a car if you arent going to use it during your stay?  If all it is to drive you to and from the airport it would be cheaper to just take a taxi or some other airport shuttle system and if this is where I think it is you could have flown into national and then taken metro…or stayed at a hotel that had airport shuttle service.

    Its cheaper in the long run to pay for the shuttle to the airport than for a rental car, gas, and parking charges at the hotel and other establishments.

  • DavidS

    I think deemery was relating a story about driving his OWN vehicle.

  • Jerry B

    Strangely, in the USA it can sometimes be cheaper to rent a car from the airport just to get to your hotel than to take a taxi or airport shuttle both ways. It’s not always the case, but it happens quite frequently when high airport transport costs intersect with low rental rates.

  • DavidS

    True…many times while away from home for an extended period of time, I would come home for the weekend. If I had a late Friday night arrival, I would not want my wife to come and get me so the kids could sleep. I would find it cheaper to rent a car for the weekend rather than take a cab or shuttle service. (I was paying out of pocket as I had estimated cab fare paid up front in my contract. I could rent a car and pocket the difference.)

  • djp

    I travel quite a bit and if I am going to something like a conference that is at the heart of the city where everything is in walking distance or a short ride on a subway I look at the costs of a rental of a car for the days I would be there ($30-$40/day, the cost of parking at a hotel (tend to be $20+/night at many hotels, then the fuel costs.  For a 4 day travel this can be $200 or more vs the cost of a taxi or airport shuttle.

    I understand its possible to be in a location where things arent close by and easy access so you do need a rental.

    I also understand driving yourself if on extended training (2 weeks or more) where rental car costs may not be covered. 

  • djp

    I agree….this responsibility wavier has a limit. There are some people who will use valet service to get a scratch fixed by claiming they did it.

    IF they Joy ride your car they are legally at fault, if they leave the keys in the car they are legally at fault, if they treat your car differently than other vehicles like parking somewhere else they are legally at fault.

  • Tia

    I agree with Jeanne.  For the most part, police won’t respond if an accident
    happened on private property – including parking lots, unless perhaps there are
    injuries.  I drive a compact car and was backing slowly out of a parking spot
    between an SUV and a minivan, making it difficult to be seen.  A Ford Explorer
    hit me.  I called the police non-emergency number and an officer did respond. 
    While technically the Explorer had the right of way (even though she was going
    pretty fast through the parking lot) and I would have been considered at fault,
    the officer was unable to issue me a ticket because it occurred on private

  • Raven

    Oh yeah, Bank One (now Chase) pulled the same thing with me. 
    “You’re lying!” one guy said. I said, “Come over here and tell that to my face. Maybe you’ll meet my 22.”
    He said, “Is that a threat? I’ll call the cops!”

    “Go ahead,” I said. “Because it wasn’t a threat, but a promise.”I do admit having some fun with those idiots, but man, it shouldn’t have taken so long for them to quit calling me. Not hoping for a next time, but if there is one, I’ll file a case with the BBB. Or better yet, file a case in small claims court for harassment. The filing fee would be worth seeing if those clowns show up!

  • deemery

    I drove -my car- to this hotel.  (New Jersey to DC isn’t a very long drive.) 

  • Sershev

    It is responsibility of the renterer for any damade regardless of who cause the damage. I suggest Mr. Goldstein contacts his own insurance company, which should have an unit dealing with rental car damages and they will collect payment from the valet services. 

  • Jane Ullah

    It’s not fair but that’s apparently standard. Even when hospital bill your insurance companies, the fine prints says that you are responsible for ensuring the bill gets paid no matter what i.e. if paperwork gets lost, insurance company’s giving trouble, etc. I’m sadly unsurprised that the rental companies work this way. Unfortunately for him, he’s probably going to have to deal directly with Doubletree which doesn’t sound like fun. Again, I am reminded to be proactive about contacting & following up with the right people. :(

  • Gubby

    Police respond to a damage claim?!?  You have got to be kidding.

  • Gubby

    Actually no, that fine print gets them off pretty much any behavior.

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  • Crissy

    Happens every single day, but I believe most places require it be on a public street.

  • Crissy

    It stinks, but in the end it’s the responsibility of the renter.  He’ll have to pay and then sue the hotel/valet.

  • Joe Farrell

    Undisputed Facts:
    a) Ron rented a car from Thrifty and agreed to take care of the vehicle and pay for damages in his care
    b) The car was damaged by a thirty party while in his care
    c) Ron has a claim for the damaged car
    d) Ron has not assigned his claim for damage to Thrifty and
    e)  Thrifty has not agreed to subro to the third party as source of damge

    Thus – Ron needs to deal with Thrifty and then deal with the valet company.  Thats how the law is set up to work.  If the Valet company plays hide the ball and refuses to deal with it because they know they are dealing with an non-resident they can jerk around, then Thriifty still has a damaged vehicle that Ron CLAIMS was damaged by a third party.

    Ron need to make sure he files a property damage claim with his insurer and make sure Thrifty gets paid – then he needs to deal with the valet company . . .

    Sorry, but thats how it works.  Do it. 

  • Jason Hanna

    Agreed. The only thing that sort of smells here is that Thrifty, after getting the dead end with Doubletree, immediately went the collections route. I mean, there should have been a step in between there.. “Look, we can’t get things dealt with from Doubletree, it falls back on you, this is how much the bill is.”

    Going directly to collections, without first attempting to collect a debt from the responsible party is not the right way to do it. And, at the end of the day, the renter is the responsible party.

  • Guest

    I would advise against taking legal advice from comments on the internet, but here are my two cents as someone knoweldgable of these thigns. The “contract” printed on the ticket is what is known as a “contract of adhesion” since you didn’t have a chance to negotiate it or even see it before entering into it. These are typically unconscionable and essentially unenforcable. Meanwhile, the valet (or friend or mechanic) that has both the keys to your car and the car itself, has established a “bailment.” There are different standards of care depending on whose benefit the bailment is created for, but in the case of mutual benefit (you pay for valet parking), the standard is reasonable care. Therefore, if they acted unreasonably (and most likely, if damage was done to your car, it is because of acting unreasonably), then you can likely sue and force them to cover all damages. The language on the ticket (just like the language at the dry cleaners) is just meant to scare you into backing down. Most likely, it will not be upheld.

    Keep in mind that this advice is worth what you paid for it. Hopefully it can at least point you in the right direction.

  • Bob

    So I can hand you a piece of paper that says, “I disclaim all liability for what I’m about to do,” and then start smashing your car with a baseball bat and I wouldn’t be responsible for the damage I caused?

    The disclaimer just means that the garage won’t voluntarily accept liability. Doesn’t mean that they don’t *have* any liability for the damage they cause.

  • Sershev

    It was Thryfty’s internal collection department, which is a standard practice: “Four months later we get a nasty collections call from Thrifty saying that they did not get payment from the valet
    service and that if we did not pay the bill it would go to collections and we would be put on a national “no rent” list”

  • Andre K.

    If the terms are not disclosed at any point in time before the contract is agreed to, then they have no legal standing anyway.