SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge refused to certify a class of consumers who claim that a rental car company tacks extra charges onto contracts in violation of consumer law.
Lead plaintiff Sandra McKinnon sued Oklahoma-based Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group in August 2012, claiming that the company relies "on the hustle and rush of airports to send their customers away without having reviewed their rental charges, thereby giving Dollar a basis for claiming that their customers routinely agree to the add-on charges."
The two proposed classes at issue included all residents of the United States who obtained a car rental since Jan. 1, 2009 - either from certain California locations or online - and were charged for a loss damage waiver when their own car insurance applied to rental cars.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers denied the plaintiffs' motion for class certification, but she gave them leave to amend their class definitions.
She found that the defendant's practices regarding disclosure of the waivers were "not uniform," since "the placement of signs, the provision of oral disclosures and initialing procedures all varied temporally and by location."
"While some common evidence might exist specific to each location and within specific timeframes, plaintiffs have not put forward a more narrow class subject to proof," Rogers wrote in her 16-page ruling.
She also found that one of the proposed classes - which covers consumers who rented their cars in person rather than online - was not ascertainable.
With respect to determining whether a particular individual purchased a waiver "in circumstances in which the requisite disclosures were lacking," Rogers said, "the court agrees that it is not feasible to resolve this question on a class-wide basis."
And "with regard to determining which class members were told to initial the rental agreement, defendants have presented evidence that certain customers were asked to initial paper agreements, but apparently the customers and not defendants kept those initialed agreements," she added.
"It is unlikely that many potential class members would maintain copies of the rental agreement or recall years later whether they were asked to initial the printout," Rogers said.
Nevertheless, she said, "it is possible that a much more narrow class focused on the sole issue of lack of signage for specific locations within a specific time period may be appropriate."
Rogers gave the plaintiffs until May 3 to file an amended motion for class certification.
Alan Mansfield, who represents the plaintiffs, said in an email that "we are evaluating the ruling and the options provided by the court and will respond accordingly."
Dollar Thrifty's counsel did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on Wednesday afternoon.
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