Amid recent complaints identified as racial discrimination and highly questionable trade practices, 12 insurance companies and car rental businesses have been targeted in a $25 million lawsuit by a Detroit car-rental company.
Maher (“Mark”) Waad, owner of Mark’s One Car Rental in Warren, Oak Park, Waterford, Detroit and formerly Hazel Park, filed suit two weeks ago in Detroit’s U.S. District Court. The legal action follows more than a year of lost business and frustration due to tactics he alleges steered customers away from him, primarily at his Detroit location.
Waad points to racketeering, RICO offenses, mail and wire fraud as well as the conspiracy to defraud, deceptive trade practices and racial discrimination. He accuses the targeted defendants of steering car and truck rental business away from him, which prevented consumers from free choice during a campaign of racial intimidation.
The defendants in the case are AAA - American Automobile Association, Farmers Insurance Group, Bristol West Insurance Group, HelpPoint Claim Services, 21st Century Car Insurance, Citizens Auto Insurance, Nationwide Insurance, Titan Auto Insurance, Allied Insurance, Foremost Insurance Group, Hertz Rent-a-Car and Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Farmers also now owns 21st Century, Bristol and Foremost.
“I began this business in 2008 as a form of customer service for people having vehicles repaired at my first business, Mark’s One Collision,” said the 28-year-old Shelby Township resident. “Because my customers include a lot of minorities, they typically don’t have extra money for car rentals, and they often don’t have major credit cards, cash up front, or the ability to successfully pass any required credit checks for car rentals.”
His loss of rental business stems from consumers being denied the right to direct bill insurance companies, being required to pay out of pocket for rentals, and having to pay in advance for car use.
Waad says that stringent new policy lost him customers in the tri-county area when they rented cars elsewhere. Recipients of at least some of those rentals were larger businesses; he adds that the insurance companies “have major deals with Enterprise and Hertz.”
“I’ve had to close my Hazel Park car-rental location as this progressed,” he said. “It brought in about $100,000 per month, but they put me out of business there.”
Waad cites Michigan law geared to prevent such situations, but says he was threatened when mentioning that law to offending insurance companies.
“There is an anti-steering law here, but every time I challenged them, they said they would red-line me!” he said.
In dealing with Farmers’ Tom Berry, who is also named in the lawsuit, Waad says he was given a hard time by the former police-officer-turned-insurance-investigator. It was Berry, he says, who convinced Farmers to give him a hard time.
“Farmers lost a lawsuit in 2010 I had brought; they didn’t want to settle it — as they should’ve — because it would set a precedent,” said Waad. “After that, when I dealt with them, Berry urged giving me a hard time, in part because I was using that won lawsuit money.”
Additionally, Farmers used the out-of-pocket policy as a punitive measure against him, and undertook it in spite of having no documented complaints against his company.
A subsequent May 2012 conversation with Farmers Insurance Director of Claims Mark Ott underlined what Waad says is racial bias. He claims Ott called him “a stupid Arab” and “sand nigger.” Ott was subsequently fired by Farmers for racial bias and intimidation.
Waad began his auto-related career 11 years ago, and says he’s been focused on hard work and community effort ever since. His clientele is primarily comprised of Arab- and African-Americans, who he says don’t report insurance company bullying to police, other authorities or the media.
“I’m a local businessman who employs 50 people, and I want this matter brought to light,” said Waad. “What these insurance companies are doing is not only illegal, but is flat-out wrong.”
The case is awaiting a trial date after being assigned to Article III Federal Judge Avern Levin Cohn. He notably presided over the bribery/extortion cases of former Detroit Councilwoman Monica Conyers and her aide, Sam Riddle.
Judge Cohn was chosen in 1979 for the judicial position in Eastern Michigan District by President Jimmy Carter, and assumed senior court status in 1999.
Waad is represented by Warren and Rochester Hills attorney Charles Busse, who states, “The defendants have mutually engaged in unfair, deceptive and fraudulent business acts by depriving consumers of the benefit of the choice ... of (car rental) services."
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