Hertz is in the midst of an ongoing lawsuit in bankruptcy court over claims by more than 100 customers that they were falsely arrested and in some cases spent months in jail for driving cars they had legally rented. In a court proceeding this week, Chris Shore, an attorney representing Hertz, described the situation with a striking lack of emotional intelligence. Whether or not this was good courtroom strategy, it certainly wasn't something any smart leader would want their company's customers to hear.
At issue is some renters' claims that Hertz reports cars as stolen to law enforcement if a renter extends a rental and the temporary hold placed on their debit or credit card fails to go through. Many reported that Hertz told them their rental had been extended and then they were arrested for driving their rental cars.
In this week's hearing, Shore, a partner at White & Case, argued, "It is a fraction of 1 percent of annual police reports that are filed that turn into actual litigation claims." That number, of course, does not count customers who were falsely arrested but accepted an early settlement from Hertz, resolved the matter in arbitration, or simply decided they didn't have the funds or the stamina for a lawsuit. Shore added, "We actually think the number of legitimate claims that arise out of annual rentals is a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny fraction."
How many false arrests are acceptable?
Saying "tiny" once would have been bad enough, but Shore said it six times in a row. It sounded like he thought it was fine for Hertz to cause innocent people to spend months incarcerated, so long as it didn't happen too often. Justin Nelson, an attorney for the renters, responded, "Not surprisingly, Mr. Shore and I disagree on whether this is a small or a big problem."
Did repeating the word "tiny" help Hertz's cause with the presiding judge? Unclear. The results of the hearing were a mixed bag, but the judge has allowed the suit to go forward to discovery, when Hertz must begin supplying documents and records to the renters' attorneys.
Whether or not it worked on the judge, it can't have helped Hertz with people who rent cars. Most would likely prefer a car rental company where their chances of going to jail are zero, rather than just tiny.