Michael Wood Jr., a former Baltimore police officer, has filed a lawsuit against the city of Bismarck, N.D., including its police department and Hertz franchisee Overland West Inc., according to a report by the Bismarck Tribune.
The story begins in 2016 when Wood rented a Suburban from Hertz franchisee Overland West Inc. in Bismarck and the vehicle became snowbound in a blizzard. It ended with Wood and his wife being detained at the U.S. border when returning from a Mexican vacation in 2019.
Wood alleges that rental company officials falsely accused him of stealing the Suburban as “revenge for his social media criticism of the company or his support of the pipeline protests in North Dakota,” according to the report.
Wood says that the Bismarck police issued a warrant for his arrest on a felony theft charge without trying to notify him, says the report.
On Jan. 26, 2017, Wood was charged with a felony theft count. Bismarck Police Officer Brad Jerome told the Tribune that “Hertz policy requires the renter to physically return the vehicle to the rental site,” and that “the vehicle has not been returned.”
Wood alleges that Hertz franchisee Overland West charged his card approximately $4,700 for the rental fee and an insurance fee. He also claims that when he left North Dakota on Dec. 8, he made arrangements with the company to extend the rental and insurance “until such time as Overland could recover the vehicle.”
Hertz said the Suburban was found abandoned in Bismarck (not where Wood had said it was) and that the vehicle was significantly damaged. Because Wood didn’t return the vehicle, Overland West continued to charge his card until it was declined, according to Hertz. Then the company alerted authorities because Wood couldn’t be reached. The theft charge was dismissed on March 19, 2020 by a judge in Burleigh County.
In the lawsuit, Wood and his wife are seeking unspecified money damages for “severe emotional distress and mental anguish” and economic damages due to “past and future lost time and wages,” says the report.
The Bismarck Tribune reached out to Hertz, and the company said it had just become aware of the lawsuit. “However, based even on a cursory review of it, there appears to be a serious misrepresentation of the facts. Overland West Inc. and Hertz will vigorously defend against these allegations,” Hertz told the Tribune.
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