The lawyer for a New Haven car rental company under fire by the state Consumer Protection Agency for fining customers it accused of speeding argued Thursday that the fine is a deterrent, not a penalty.
Max Brunswick, an attorney for Acme Rent-a-Car, argued against the Feb. 7 ruling by a Consumer Protection hearing officer who recommended that Acme be ordered to refund the fines it levied on “speeding” customers after tracking them with satellites.
The New Haven-based company had used global positioning system satellites and fined renters $150 each time their cars exceeded 79 mph for more than two minutes.
Hearing officer Robert H. Brinton Jr. also recommended that Acme be prohibited from fining customers in the future.
Acme, a discount rental service, said its survival depends on keeping speeding and accidents to a minimum to reduce insurance costs. Insurance cost increases would hinder Acme from renting at less than its competitors.
“The vast majority of consumers would prefer to have this policy in place so they can rent cars at a lower fee,” Brunswick said at a hearing called by the agency.
Brinton said the fines charged by the company were far greater than damage to cars by speeding and were illegal penalties, not incurred damages.
Acme said driving at high speeds increases the need for maintenance and repair costs.
“[With] the cost of wear and tear on the car, it’s not an unreasonable charge,” Brunswick said. “We probably don’t even come out ahead.”
The Department of Consumer Protection said Acme failed to explain the policy and the global positioning system adequately to customers.
Consumer Protection Commissioner James T. Fleming suggested to Acme Thursday that many people probably did not know what the GPS tracking system was. Fleming said he was unaware of it before the Acme case.
Fleming is expected to announce his decision Feb. 19 or later next week.
— Associated Press