Rental car companies under fire for refusing to help clean up tourist drivers' NZ road chaos

A Kaikoura man wiped off the road by a foreign tourist wants rental car companies to be more willing to help clean up after any accidents their customers cause, after he fought a two-month battle to get compensated for his losses.

Happy Campers’ owner Kevin Whiteside said they're "not liable for any damage" rental drivers cause. Source: Fair Go

“They've got a fleet of wagons on the road, they're running a business making money out of them and they're putting these drivers in these vehicles. I think it's their problem,” Paul Gasson told Fair Go.

Paul was hit head-on near Whataroa on the West Coast by a tourist on the wrong side of the road, at the wheel of a Happy Campers van.

“It was brakes on, pulling off, but this campervan still came and hit me smack fair and square in the front of the vehicle and yeah I thought that could be it,” Paul said.

Police ticketed the tourist, 34 year-old Ludovic Le Roux from Luxembourg, for failing to keep left. Fair Go understands Mr Le Roux has left New Zealand. He has not responded to emailed requests for his insurance details, or for comment.

The crash wrote off both vehicles and endangered the lives of animal handler Paul and his highly-trained kiwi-tracking conservation dog, Dillon.

Paul Gasson has since spent two months trying to get back some of the $7000 he says the crash has cost him. Paul had his ute insured for third party damage, meaning if he had caused the crash, Happy Campers would be covered. But Happy Campers was initially refusing any responsibility to fix his loss.

“We're all in this together. We share the roads and we're sharing the conservation resource and the tourists are coming here to see our beautiful places and our wildlife. I'm doing my bit, but this seems… a little bit irresponsible, that you can put people on the roads and not take care of what happens,” Paul said.

Fair Go put that to Happy Campers’ owner Kevin Whiteside, who initially was emphatic:

“As a rental car company, we're not liable for any damage done by a person who damages someone else's car when they're hiring the van, OK?”

Mr Whiteside has a fleet of 650 vehicles across his rental companies. He told Fair Go that his agreements comply with transport regulations.

Happy Campers agreements also have insurance exclusion clauses that place all liability on the driver if the way the vehicle is used breaks any law or regulation. Mr Whiteside told Fair Go that he believes that makes their customers drive more carefully while in New Zealand.

The industry body for rental cars found this unusual.

“Most of the time unless there's a serious breach of traffic law, normal conditions of insurance coverage would apply, “said Barry Kidd, from the Rental Vehicle Association.

“Failing to give way, failing to keep left, not adjusting to the driving conditions - those things are part and parcel of driving a vehicle. It happens from time to time. People get distracted, people makes mistakes and sometimes those mistakes result in accidents, ” Mr Kidd said.

“Normally a combination of the rental vehicle company and the insurer will cover those costs,” he said

The RVA represents most major rental car brands in New Zealand, as well as Happy Campers.

Mr Whiteside has since clarified his position to Fair Go:

“While we will still hold the client liable if they have breached the exclusion clauses we acknowledge that Happy Campers still has a liability direct with owner of the vehicle the client has damaged and will deal with that in a more expedient manner.”

“We appreciate your comments that has bought this matter to our attention.”

Kevin Whiteside has paid Paul Gasson $3350 for damages - less than half what the kiwi-dog handler says he lost.

“I’m not a happy camper,” Paul said, but he added it has softened the blow and allowed him to move on and continue with his conservation work.