Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Aron v. U-Haul Co. (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 3, 2006)

I had (!) to go to PETCO Park to watch the Padres (sadly) lose their first playoff game, so with that and having to teach class, I was a bit behind on my appellate reading today.

Nonetheless, I was eventually able to read this case, which is a UCL class action against U-Haul for renting vehicles with unfilled gas tanks and then charging customers a $20 refueling fee if the amount of gas in the tank isn't the same or higher than when they picked it up. Oh, yeah, and then not giving them any credit if they return the tank more full than when they picked it up.

This certainly sounds like a sleazy practice, but is it unlawful or unfair?

The trial court (Judge Mortimer) granted U-Haul's demurrer, but Justice Zelon (largely) reverses. I agree with Justice Zelon. Sure, the charges were disclosed. But that doesn't necessarily immunize them from being unfair or unlawful. Plaintiff says (pretty persuasively) that because a fuel gauge is pretty unreliable (as well as imprecise), customers are forced to overfill the tank with gas in order to make sure they're not "under" the amount of gas in the truck when they rented it. Sounds plausible to me, and certainly enough to survive a demurrer. Moreover, Business and Professions Code Section 12020 provides that it's unlawful to use any measure that's insufficiently precise, and fuel gauges almost certainly qualify -- hence, the class action properly alleges an unlawful practice as well.

So the class action goes forward. Which seems right to me.

Stay tuned to see what happens on remand!