Car Rental Company’s Inflated Damage Claim May Violate Consumer Protection Law

In a decision handed down last month, Grimes v. Enterprise Leasing Company of Philadelphia, LLC, the Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed the issue of whether a car rental company could be liable to its customer under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”) for inflated charges for damages to a rented vehicle.

Plaintiff Christina Grimes (“Grimes”) alleged that after returning a rented vehicle she was informed by the rental company that she was being charged the sum of $840.42 for a scratch to the vehicle, and related charges.  While the case involved some other issues as well, the Court addressed the issue of whether Grimes could make a claim under the UTPCPL which seeks to prevent unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce.  An important element of the UTPCPL is that, in appropriate circumstances, it permits a successful plaintiff to recover up to three times his or her actual damages plus attorney’s fees.

The trial court had concluded that Grimes could not prevail because she did not allege a misrepresentation with respect to the disputed fee, although Grimes had alleged that Enterprise had engaged in “deceptive conduct.” 

The Superior Court pointed out that it had recently held in another case that when a plaintiff alleges a claim under the UTPCPL catchall provision prohibiting deceptive conduct, the plaintiff need not prove the elements of common law fraud, as had previously been the law.  Therefore to the extent that Grimes alleged that Enterprise’s conduct was deceptive, as opposed to fraudulent, she need not allege or prove justifiable reliance, as would be the case in a fraud situation. 

Reversing the trial court, the Superior Court held that Grimes could proceed to trial in order to attempt to prove her claim under the UTPCPL. 

These types of claims for damages to rented cars are fairly common, and even where the customer feels that a charge for a minor scratch or other damage is excessive, the customer may not believe it worthwhile to fight the claim.  However, the holding of the Grimes case, as well as the provisions of the UTPCPL allowing for treble damages and attorney’s fees when appropriate, may help level the playing field.
Stu Cohen


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