INDIANAPOLIS — Hertz is paying millions of dollars to settle hundreds of lawsuits that accuse the car rental company of filing false police reports against its own customers.
This week, Hertz Global Holdings announced it has reached a settlement involving 364 pending claims relating to its vehicle theft reporting. A press release issued by the company says the settlement will bring resolution to more than 95% of its pending theft reporting claims.
“The company will pay an aggregate amount of approximately $168 million by year-end to resolve these disputes,” Hertz’s statement said.
The announcement comes after 13News, CBS News, USA Today and other news organizations reported extensively on the claims, highlighting devastating accusations by people nationwide who say they were arrested and jailed for crimes they did not commit.
This summer, 13 Investigates shared the stories of two victims who are among the hundreds that have filed wrongful arrest lawsuits against Hertz.
Colorado resident Drew Seaser said he was leaving for a Mexico vacation to celebrate his daughter’s high school graduation when he was suddenly arrested at the Denver International Airport.
A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent informed Seaser there was a warrant issued for his arrest for allegedly stealing a rented 2020 Ford Expedition in Georgia.
Seaser said he has never rented a vehicle from Hertz and has never stepped foot in the state of Georgia. But based on a false report filed by Hertz, he was still arrested and sent to jail as his family watched helplessly nearby.
“I still just couldn’t believe it,” Seaser told 13News in June. “I told anybody who’d listen that I’d never been to Georgia and this was all a misunderstanding, but they were just doing their jobs based on the information they had.”
Further investigation showed Hertz rented a SUV to someone who stole Seaser’s identity, and when that identity thief didn’t bring the vehicle back, Hertz made an unsuspecting and innocent man in Colorado pay the price.
“I’ve had trouble sleeping. I’ve had more panic attacks. I get nervous every time I see a police officer. I’m scared to go to the airport,” Saeser explained. “It’s ruined a lot of aspects of my life."
Kevin Barkal said he was also falsely arrested because of a Hertz stolen vehicle report.
The retired northwest Indiana doctor said his insurance company helped get him a rental car from Hertz after his personal vehicle was involved in an accident.
Hertz claims Barkal’s rental was months overdue and he was not responding to their attempts to contact him, so they told police the car was stolen.
But police records show Hertz activated the OnStar system which showed the vehicle was at Barkal’s house one mile from the rental car lot. And the manager of the rental car lot said he knew exactly where the car was because it was in Barkal’s driveway every time he drove by his house.
“Three different times I left notes on the front door, back door, on the car,” rental car lot manager Jeffrey Williams told 13News.
So if Hertz knew exactly where the car was, why did the company call police and report the car stolen instead of calling a tow truck?
“Because I was instructed to by Hertz. So we do what Hertz tells us to do,” Williams said.
Hertz got its car back and police let Barkal go without any charges. But Hertz did not back down. Nearly nine months after the rental car was returned, Barkal was again stopped by police and, this time, charged with two felonies based on the same Hertz police report.
“They arrested me, handcuffed me, searched me, and I was thrown in the back of the police car and taken to county jail,” Barkal recalls.
After a day in jail, months of legal bills and a year of court hearings, all charges against Barkal were eventually dropped.
Across the nation, Barkal, Seaser and other people arrested due to Hertz police reports have been speaking out, demanding a stop to the company’s practice of filing incorrect reports of thefts.
In court, Hertz attorneys admitted the company files an average of 3,365 police reports each year alleging a customer stole one of its rental cars. A judge ruled earlier this year that hundreds of plaintiffs could sue Hertz individually in state courts.
Most of those individual lawsuits will be resolved by the settlement announcement.
Hertz’s new CEO announced this spring that addressing the wrongful arrest claims would be a priority for the company.
"As I have said since joining Hertz earlier this year, my intention is to lead a company that puts the customer first. In resolving these claims, we are holding ourselves to that objective," Hertz CEO Stephen Scherr said in a press release announcing the settlement. "While we will not always be perfect, the professionals at Hertz will continue to work every day to provide best-in-class service to the tens of millions of people we serve each year.”