Not all important legal matters involve multi-million dollar stakes. A recent small claims pro bono matter handled by Martin LLP, a Stamford, CT law firm, serves as an example of that proposition.

In August 2021, a college student named Kimberly rented a car from Payless Car Rental at the Cincinnati airport so that she could bring her younger sister to school. Because a hurricane threatened to hit the following day, Kimberly adjusted her plans so she could travel back to New York a day earlier than originally scheduled. After mapping the drop-off address provided to her with the rental agreement, she arrived at the Payless facility at around noon. A Payless representative told her where to park and she hopped on a Payless shuttle to the terminal. The driver told Kimberly that she was all set and that she did not need a receipt indicating the drop-off.

Some weeks later, Kimberly received a letter from Payless accusing her of not returning the vehicle. Kimberly reported the matter to the police department serving the airport area and the car was located in an impoundment lot the next day. Internal Payless documents recited that the vehicle had been impounded the day after Kimberly returned it. Several weeks later, Payless charged $6,462 to Kimberly’s credit card. Remarkably, Payless continued to charge Kimberly for weeks even after it realized the car had been returned on time and exactly where it was.

Unfortunately, despite numerous attempts to make Payless see the inequity of its efforts, Payless continued to assert the language of its contract of adhesion and its claim that it could charge the fees because it was unable to re-rent the car while it was out of its possession. With no other alternative, Mark S. Gregory of Martin LLP initiated a small claims proceeding in the Connecticut Superior Court on behalf of Kimberly. Payless asserted a defense but appeared for trial without any witnesses and without any explanation for the internal inconsistencies in its documents and in its narrative. The Court entered Judgment in favor of Kimberly for the full amount of the claimed damages, plus costs. While Kimberly is delighted with the result, she wonders from how many other consumers who did not have access to dedicated counsel that Payless has been able to charge and keep such exorbitant fees.