Rental car damaged after being cut off by a resort van

When Chuck Berg tried to maneuver his way back to the Le Méridien in Phuket, Thailand, on a recent visit, he ran into a little problem: a rock on the side of the road, which dented the side of his rental car.

Berg thinks Le Méridien should cover the $175 deductible because the accident wouldn’t have happened without an unfortunate series of circumstances to which the resort’s employees contributed.

Today’s “can this trip be saved” case will force us to draw a line between a hotel’s liability and a guest’s personal responsibility. And I should warn you, this is not an easy one.

It was their last night at the Le Méridien, and Berg and his wife were returning to the resort after dark. Just outside the property, the road narrowed. “We had to slowly creep down a very narrow street with cars parked along each side,” Berg explains.

He adds,

We were just getting around the last of several cars on the driver’s side when a shuttle van from the resort came the other way.

I expected him to wait for us to clear the last car, but he didn’t – he pushed his way past us, honking his horn and forcing me to move out of his way.

Since I was moving very slowly, the guards at the gate waved at us to keep moving forward, suggesting that we were “clear” on both sides of the car. But we weren’t. I ended up hitting a rock on the side of the road, damaging the side panel of the car.

Problem is, Berg didn’t know it at the time. “We heard the bump but I thought we hit something on the bottom,” he told me.

When he pulled into the parking lot, it was too dark to see any damage on his rental car. It wasn’t until the next morning that he noticed the scratches on his vehicle.

Berg spoke with an assistant manager at the resort, who reviewed the damage and told him there nothing he would do. Berg reminded him that he was a good customer — a Starwood Vacation owner and Gold Level Members of the Starwood Preferred Guest program — and suggested that this wasn’t the right way to end an otherwise wonderful stay at his property.

“But he insisted there was nothing he could or would do,” he says.

So Berg asked me for help.

My first suggestion: start a paper trail. I recommended he send a brief, polite email to the hotel.

Here’s its response:

We, at Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort have thoroughly investigated the case you reported to us on the morning of 28 October 2011, but have been unable to find any evidence of a collision near the main gate on the public road leading to our resort at approximately 9.30pm on the 27 October 2011.

Our Hotel Coach drivers and security team were, as you also described, completely unaware of any collision that may have occurred.

That being said, we understand that you are disappointed and feel that our associates and the security company were somehow careless in their duties.

Please be assured that we have spent considerable time with our drivers and the security company management sharing your complaint and concerns. Both have taken note of your comments and will endeavor to provide a higher standard of service in the future.

Guest safety is very important to us and we thank you for sharing your ideas for improvement with us. I regret that we cannot compensate you for this one-vehicle accident as we do not recognise any liability in this instance. We hope that this experience will not deter you from visiting us again in the near future.

In other words, no.

Berg thinks that response is absurd.

First, by saying that a “higher standard of service” is called for, he accepts that the incident probably happened as I described, and his staff had a contributing role in causing it. So why shouldn’t he accept some responsibility for it?

Second, by referring to this as a “one-vehicle accident” he suggests that I would have been better off colliding with the van rather than the rock.

I recommended Berg appeal to Starwood, which owns the Le Méridien brand. He did.

Apparently Starwood Corporate was not satisfied with the response I received from Le Méridien either. I just received email from Jeremy Davie in their Corporate Consumer Affairs Division. He is sending a check for $150 to cover the deductible we had to pay the car rental company. He is also depositing 10,000 point in our SPG Account.

And finally, when we next stay at a Starwood property, he has offered to work with the property manager to make it a memorable experience for us.

The response from Starwood came in shortly before this post was published. I had assumed — and so had Berg — that this was a lost cause, and I had already written something about this case, believing Starwood had given him its “final” answer about his rental car.

If Berg’s case hadn’t have been addressed at the corporate level, I’m not sure about my next move. Should I have advocated for him?

I have mixed feelings. If Berg heard a “bump” in his rental car then why didn’t he pull over right away and talk with the guard, ask to have a supervisor called and fill out an incident report? And if not there, then at least in the dark parking lot? By waiting a full day to report the damage, you severely reduce your chances of a positive outcome.

(Photo: chibi j918/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.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • Chris

    I’m amazed at the many ways you can find to assign blame elsewhere when you’re in fact nothing more than a lousy driver unused to the width of your rental car !!!… 
    He hit the rock himself, on a public street, because he chose to avoid a collision with a van : where the van comes from has no relevance to the story.
    Next time, take a taxi !…

  • Tom

    Every driver in every crash says two things — it wasn’t my fault, and the damage isn’t that much. The rock didn’t jump out and attack his car, so he can’t place blame there. Instead he blames the deep pocketed resort for his bad driving. Driving a rental car in Thailand on narrow and unfamililar streets at night is a challenge, but blaming the driver of a nearby shuttle van is delusional.

    Fortunately for him he was able to leverage his preferred status and access to Elliott’s heavy hand to extract some money out of Starwood. When I first started working a corporate vice president came back to the office after lunch and hit my parked company car. I was cited as at fault. “You’re just a summer hire,” my boss told me.

  • Bill

    So if the hotel’s van had hit a rock while trying to drive by the tourist, would he have reimbursed the hotel?

  • K.

    This is so frustrating because the $150 goodwill will just be passed on to all the “regular” customers like me.  Obviously there was a shuttle available; I wish Berg would take it next time.

    The message here is:  don’t take responsibility for your own actions, and then whine and complain up the ladder until someone pays you to go away.  Lovely.

  • ChrisY

    This is the kind of case I’d like to see on Judge Judy.  She’d tear the plaintiff apart!

  • Brooklyn

    If the bellhop told the guy to jump off the roof would the OP blame them for a broken leg???  It was clearly his fault.

  • Clare

    Wow, I do think some of the posts here are awfully harsh!  First of all, let’s remember that this is Thailand.  Is it all that hard to imagine that the van came barrelling at him, with the idiot driver honking the horn?  Seems credible to me. 

    Secondly, I agree, that if the guard was motioning for him to pull to the side, the reasonable assumption was that HE COULD DO THAT.  I mean, duh!  Was he to second-guess the person doing the gesturing?

    Thirdly, it’s hard to believe that if the van-driver or the motioner were NOT employees of this resort, the OP would be trying to get the resort to pony up.  His point is sound–the resort staff were at fault, so why should a guest have to pay for their idiocy?

    Fourthly, you can’t blame the OP for not going over the car with a fine-tooth comb right away in the dark!  His assumption, that the guard who’d gestured for him to pull to the side wasn’t pointing him toward a rock that would seriously damage the car, made total sense.  If we couldn’t trust every single piece of information that we receive from another person without verifying it for ourselves, we would not only be unable to function in daily life, but we’d also go insane.  How many zillion times have I heard a “bump” or some other noise while driving MY OWN CAR, and it was just from driving over a plastic pop-bottle or some other trivial nothing?  Here the OP was driving a car he’d never driven before, so how would he reasonably be presumed able to identify a mystery noise like that?  Jump out of the car and fill out an incident report?!  Come on, Chris!  Even if he HAD seen some damage in the “dark parking lot,” and tried to find somebody in charge, they most likely would’ve just told him to talk to so-and-so in the morning!

    I’m glad that this company thought enough of a preferred customer to give him the measly $150 that he was asking for, which to them is peanuts anyway.  Unlike so many of the hellish companies that we hear about on Chris’s site, this one actually seems to care! 

  • Tony A.

    What was this guy’s blood alcohol level? Phuket looks like a good place to get wasted.

  • Onehotmailuser

    Chris, I’m very disappointed that you encouraged him to continue his plight for undeserving compensation.  As others have pointed out, compensation such as this gets passed on to the rest of us.  What in the world happened to personal accountability?  Please use some discretion before helping someone such as this.  I damaged my vehicle pulling over to let a mail truck pass, can you help me get some compensation from the U.S. Postal service??

  • Rcil2003

    He has to suck it up. A rare case of real rental car damage as opposed to the more common phantom kind.

  • Fordmann

    When we rent a car, we always use our credit card that includes car rental insurance that covers the deductible in the event there is a problem.  We had to use it once when my husband had a fender bender.  It worked like a charm.  No out of pocket expenses. 

  • IGoEverywhere

    These trqavelers that are so high and mighty should have the intelligence to figure these things out themselves. You are making babies out of them. Hitting a rock is making yourself unawae of you surroundings. Oops happen.

  • Nancy Dickinson

    This OP was clearly in a catch-22.  While I very much understand the viewpoint of the detractors (when is it actually the fault of the driver?) I still see, much more, the viewpoint of the OP.

    In most countries, people will actually yield to an oncoming car if the path isn’t roomy enough for two cars.  The resort van driver apparently doesn’t adhere to the rules of the road, choosing instead to barrel on through and blare his horn at the OP, and the OP hit a large rock, damaging his rental car.  His statement, “Second, by referring to this as a “one-vehicle accident” he suggests that I would have been better off colliding with the van rather than the rock.”  I think this is a fair assessment to attach to this.

    I think the right thing was done here – perhaps the points were a little over the top but corporate didn’t think so…

  • Blip66

    Most people are just going by the facts presented here. The guy drove the car into a rock and doesn’t want to take responsibility. For that matter how is the hotel or anyone else sure that he didn’t damage the car somewhere else and isn’t just pointing to this unverified “thump” as an excuse to have someone else pay.

    I suspect this guy was half relying on the inherent biases that lead to statements like “remember that this is Thailand”, “Van came barreling at him”, “idiot driver honking the horn” (all without a shred of evidence of anything other than prejudiced views) to have everyone else pony up for his mistakes.

  • Mahatab Ahmed

    Many people are confused about what type of car insurance they need when
    they rent. Should you rely on your own policy, or should you buy the
    policy at the counter?
    auto body

  • Fordmann

    Not sure about Thailand, but in China nobody yields to anyone, “nose-position” is everything.  So it may be the van was just driving as they normally do.

  • Nancy Dickinson

    We have full coverage on both our cars.  Our auto policy takes care of rental car damage.  I had a car broken into while I was renting in another state.  They broke the window and stole some items, breaking the lock on the glovebox in the process.  I called my insurance company, they called the rental agency, I returned the car and got another one – I never heard another word about it.  No deductible…

  • MikeZ

    From the looks of the story, he relied on the guard who motioned him forward. The guard was in a spot to better see how much room the vehicle had and screwed up. It is ultimately up to the driver to not collide with vehicles, but in this case, I believe that the security officer standing outside would be in a much better position to see the vehicle and the dangers, especially since this probably happens on a regular basis.

    For example, if you go to the carwash and the attendant directs you to put the car between the little bumpers so that the conveyor grabs the car, and he instead directs you to a spot which gives you a flat, do you think the car wash wouldn’t be liable?

  • Crissy

    I’m glad to see that the corporate office was able to provide some compensation.  While I don’t think he’s entitled to anything, I think it would have been nice to give him some points, which seems like something he would benefit from.  I’m glad it worked out for him, even better then I would have suggested.  Bu t if corporate hadn’t given him anything then i’m not sure what else you could.

  • Linda Bator

    Its people like you that cost the rest of us so much money.  He hit a rock.  His problem, not theirs!

  • Linda Bator

    Again, no personal responsibility, just hit up someone with deep pockets!  Honestly – it was a rock, and the hotel and shuttle didn’t THROW it at him!

  • AlexHalavais

    Agree that this was pretty clearly the driver’s fault. On the other hand, I’m impressed with Starwood’s response.

  • Tony A.

    Perhaps his biggest mistake was to drive in ASIA. It’s insane.

  • Charles Owen

    This can be a very confusing topic. For the most part, if you have automobile insurance on your car, it will also cover rental cars. You should call or check your policy to be sure. It will be your primary insurance. Then, if you rent using most major credit cards (and to not do so is dumb), you get secondary insurance from the credit card company. They will cover any deductible your primary policy does not cover. I’m willing to bet most of the people who gripe about rental car damage bills don’t even realize they could have reported it to their credit card company.

    I’m saddened that I have yet to read a column here where he asks: have you checked with your credit card company? Had the problem above happened to me, I would have rented with American Express and they would have covered that $175 no problem.

    Aside from that, there are some special programs, like the one from American Express that will assume primary coverage for a small fee (about $20 per rental).

    That said, there are exclusions to watch out for. Most policies have a list of countries they will not cover in. Jamaica is generally on that list and often Mexico is. Also, there are exclusions on cars they cover. Most will not cover an SUV or luxury cars, for example, so don’t accept that free upgrade.

    The other side of the question is Liability insurance. Again, your personal policy may cover, but often with more exclusions. The credit card insurance does not cover liability at all. If you are in Mexico, buy the liability insurance.

  • Mark K

    If you are anywhere in the US and have US auto insurance, most policies will cover you when you rent a car so you don’t have to buy the offered coverage.

    If you are renting outside the US, I don’t know of a single personal auto insurance company that will cover you by default.  Many do offer an additional cost option to have you covered on rentals outside the US but you must request it.  Even the credit card coverage offered by most cards is not good in some foreign countries.  So accepting the offered insurance may be a good idea in these cases, just be careful of which offered policy you buy and what it actually covers.

    You just have to check and see what covers you best for each rental situation.  

  • Ann Lamoy

    I’m glad that this company thought enough of a preferred customer to give him the measly $150 that he was asking for, which to them is peanuts anyway.

    And if it hadn’t been a preferred customer? I bet the outcome would have been vastly different. They probably would have said too bad, so sad (or words to that effect).

    And while I don’t necessarily blame the OP for going over the car with a fine tooth comb in the dark, I do think he should have stopped and not pulled over-despite what the guard gestured. I would not trust that the guard would be able to see clearly any obstacle in the dark that my car might hit.

  • Tam_Lin

    This was an unprovable claim. As irritating as the incident is to Mr. Berg, he should just have shrugged and marked it up to experience. If he had any chance at all to make his case, it was at the resort. Trying to enforce his claim once back home was hopeless. That he tried to trade on his elite status is a bit pathetic. He got very, very lucky.

  • Anthony Acree

    What is your blood alcohol level when writing this post and surfing the net?

  • Tony A.

    Dunno, but I wasn’t driving either.

  • Guest

    I’ve found that the people who do the most clamoring about personal responsibility demonstrate the least amount of their own.

  • Kevkev

    I think this travel troubleshooter become a thug that intimidates others to get his or her demands. Although it is part of driver’s fault, it becomes hotel’s fault. It doesn’t make any sense.

  • Slacktide

    I am amazed that this guy or any of the other complainants would go to you for help. especially when they are at fault. They cant think for themselves. Good Grief. I have always handled situations myself immediately. Does everyone expect others to fix everything for them. I wouldn’t think of calling you. However next time I get the short end of something I will call you. 

  • jquek

    We always carry flashlights with us when we go on vacation. You never know when you may need some extra light. He should have gotten out and checked out the damage after hearing a bump or driven to a better lighted area to do so. Collisions happen all the time – better with a rock than head on with another car. Lucky that it was only $150. Were hand signals misconstrued? Not all hand signals are universal. Taxis are so cheap in many of the Southeast Asian countries – may be next time use the hotel shuttle or get a taxi. Maybe the $150 from Starwood but the extra 10,000 points was maybe a little much.

  • Tony A.

    On the other hand, I have often found that these so-called elite club members are really so cheap they can’t afford or do want to pay for damages they actually had caused. What’s $175 to them?

  • Sally H

    What was a rock doing on the roadway?  Did it have reflectors on it?

  • Tony A.

    They don’t use Jersey barriers over there.

  • Sasha

    I, too, am amazed that no one seems to understand the poor, crowded conditions of some of these roads.  this is not a lousy driver.  I am glad that his resort finally made it right, but I think that Chris would have been right in mediating this case.

  • Chris

    There is a difference between a facility where there is no unknown danger and a (probably) poorly lit street !

  • Steve R

    One caveat: I don’t know if it’s common, but our auto insurance covers rental cars, but only up to the value of our own cars. Since the car we have full coverage on is a subcompact that’s several years old, we wouldn’t be fully covered if we totaled a new rental car. Like Mark K said, you have to check and decide for yourself what covers you best.

  • Ajaynejr

    Couldn’t he have seen the rock himself? Then held his ground and not driven into the rock? Then depending on the positions of the vehicles it may then be the resort van’s driver’s responsibility to get out of the way.

  • doctork

    If this had been his own car, would he have denied responsibility?  Doubt it. He drove the car and was in charge of it.  If he had insurance, either taken via the firm or using his own, then this would have presumably covered the costs.