A state court in Arizona returned a $1.85 million verdict against two related rental car companies, resolving a consumer fraud suit raised by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. The A.G.’s Office originally filed suit against Phoenix Car Rental, Saban’s Rent-A-Car, and the companies’ owner, Dennis N. Saban, in 2014, alleging violation of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act. The A.G. contended that the rental car companies charged consumers unlawful fees during rental transactions from 2009 to 2016.
“Our priority was to get consumers their money back and the defendant continued to fight us. We refused to back down and ended up with a great victory for consumers,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich in a statement. “After an intensive five-week trial, the judge’s ruling sends a message that consumer fraud won’t be tolerated in Arizona.”
An investigation of the companies revealed numerous problems with their business practices. The A.G.’s Office alleged that an undercover agent was promised a rental vehicle for $129 per week, but the price ballooned to $250 per week after additional fees and taxes were imposed. The agent also asked for a copy of the rental agreement but was denied and was falsely told by a sales associate that he would be arrested if he left the Phoenix area because of “specially coded license plates.” The A.G.’s Office further contended that an employee of the companies told an agent that an additional charge was the “county tax” that actually was a surcharge imposed by the rental company. Finally, investigators also discovered that the rental vehicle’s odometer had been tampered with, displaying a mileage that was 100,000 miles less than the actual mileage, according to the A.G.’s Office. A number of consumers testified at the trial that their experiences with the companies mirrored those outlined in the allegations.
Of the $1.85 million verdict, $1 million will go to consumers who were charged unlawful fees. In addition to monetary penalties, the ruling requires the companies to provide consumers with a good faith estimate of the rental charges and prohibits the defendants from inaccurately advertising the condition or rental rates of vehicles, renting any vehicle without regularly scheduled maintenance, altering the odometer, and altering or disengaging a vehicle’s warning light.
The case is State of Arizona, ex rel. Mark Brnovich v. Dennis N. Saban, et al., Case No. CV2014-005556 (Maricopa Cnty., Ariz.).