30 March 2010

AMEX Demands Money From Innocent Danish Cyclist Victim

Photo: Bax Lindhardt for BT

This is Helle Kühl. In May 2009 she was knocked off her bike by a car near Copenhagen's Central Station. The car was a rental driven by an American woman who was insured by American Express.

According to the Danish newspaper BT, the police have said that the American woman wasn't used to watching for cyclists and, after the accident, couldn't understand that it was her fault. Helle Kühl was heading straight on through an intersection. A right-turning bus had stopped for her but the American woman, who was turning left across the intersection, didn't.

American Express, through a collection agency, has been hassling Helle Kühl for $3106.41 - about 16,000 Danish kroner - for the damages to the car.

Helle Kühl said to BT newspaper: "This is completely insane. I'm an innocent victim and now they want me to pay 16,000 kroner because I got run over. This is an Americanization of the situation".

There were many witnesses to the accident who back Helle Kühl op and who gave her their names at the scene in case she needed them to witness. Her Danish insurance company handled their side of it efficiently, paying out for a new bike, clothes and the traumatic experience.

American Express has, however, sent five emails and two letters to Helle Kühl demanding 16,000 kroner for the damages to the car. She has tried to refer them to the car rental company and their insurance, to no avail. They continue to pressure her with their letters and emails, even though they have said earlier that the case was closed.

Here's the letter from the collection agency, Vengroff & Williams Associates, which Danish Broadcasting has acquired.

It reads: "The hire vehicle that our client was in charge was damaged by you and American Express has paid the rental company for the damages incurred to their vehicle. We now seek to obtain payment from you as the third party liable for the damages caused."

Helle Kühl doesn't have to pay according to Danish law and a number of legal experts have stated clearly that she shouldn't worry about it. However, she may have to pay for a lawyer to tackle American Express and get the case closed. If she doesn't she is worried that she may have problems travelling to the US in the future.

According to Danish Broadcasting, American Express have stated that they are looking into the case and are "taking it seriously".

Let's hope so.

Via: The Danish newspaper BT's article "Innocent Traffic Accident Victim Sent Massive Bill" and Danish Broadcasting Corp. (DR).


Carlton said...

The mind boggles.

There's another phrase that springs to mind: "Only in America." Er, even when the 'accident' happened in Denmark.

Dylan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

It sounds like - in the tradition of pointless litigation - to issue a counter demand for compensation for stress resulting from the unjustified demands.

dyrlaegen said...

I've driven in CPH a few times, and watching for cyclists doing that is diificult and quite scary. I can understand how this happens.
However, that is the driving law there, and sticking to it is YOUR problem if you want to drive there. This is crazy.
It is difficult for American tourists to get used to driving on the left when they come to the UK, but if one hit me going the wrong way, I would not expect this letter!

Klaus Mohn said...

Someone fucked up at Amex. And it's pretty hard to get a collection agency off your back in America, they'll keep hunting you down for shits and giggles. Nothing like a good public shaming to get Amex to close the case and apologize... then again, most people in the US probably see nothing wrong with this :D

Anonymous said...

This is typical American stupidity. We've been trained to believe that nothing is our problem and we've become complacent when corporate America tries to screw us. Unfortunately, nothing about this case is unusual on this side of the pond.

It's a shame - even with a better president, we still manage to embarass ourselves. Which way to Canada?

Stuart said...

In every place here in the US that I know of, that motorist would also have been required to yield, and I would guess that most people here understand this. They certainly yield for me, so far [crosses fingers].
So this person did not pretend to get it - I am not entirely convinced. Perhaps the alien-to-her separate bike lane she took to be some sort of sidewalk? In any case, I'd guess that Amex's attempt to collect is a direct result of her telling them that it was not "her fault". Her incentive for doing so, of course, would be to deflect liability. If so, Amex had better change their policy on 3rd party collections to not just automatically accept the word of their client.
If it were me, I might think about taking some action against both the driver, for her self-serving "ignorance", and against Amex for their abusive (in this case) policies. If it came to litigation, the "point" would be to reduce, to whatever degree, the likelihood of this sort of thing in the future.
A nice, very public trans-Atlantic suit might get the attention of a few people. It's the sort of thing that a conservative American talking head might hold up as a "travesty" and the people watching might even agree -- this is exactly the demographic you'd like to reach, and they would certainly be more likely to understand that they were expected to yield to oncoming bikes when turning left.

Anonymous said...

As an American all I have to say is F&*% American Express. I just cut up my credit card from them!


Mike Shoup said...

As disheartening this is that AMEX is doing this, it really does not surprise me.

America, home of the, "Its not my fault!"

I second what a previous poster said: Which way to Canada?

LGV said...

that's crasy !
And someone who rent a car in India and hit a cow can say that he's not use to drive with cows ???!!!

Anonymous said...

You must be silly for not knowing where Canada is :s

Kevin Love said...

Follow the North Star to Freedom Land!

Ed Scoble said...

This whole thing remind me of this;


a cyclist hit a car, not the other way round, even thought it's the car that hit the cyclist when it was turning.

Green Idea Factory said...

Hi. In my understanding she would not have a problem with traveling to the USA since this is entirely a civil matter.

Kevin Steinhardt said...

Just because "the [...] woman wasn't used to watching for cyclists", sur-... surely the Danish highway code states that you have to look out for (or at least be prepared to be aware of) cyclists.

Peter said...

If the bicyclist had been riding her bicycle on any road in the USA, the driver who hit her, while making a left turn, would have been guilty of a failure-to-yield infraction. Whether or not a police officer would issue the driver a ticket for this is another matter. But no insurance company would try to hit up the cyclist for damages. In fact, the insurance company would definitely be liable for damages to the bicyclist and definitely would have to pay out unless they wanted a lawsuit.

For the American driver to say she wasn't use to giving right-of-way to bicyclists may say something about her driving but sure wouldn't hold up legally in the USA.

It's a different matter if the bicyclist had been riding on the sidewalk and rode her bike into a crosswalk without dismounting. In that case, she might, depending on the state, be partially liable.

Grant said...

I'm not out to defend the U.S. legal system, but the collections agency, who may or may not wholly own the debt (not Amex), is based in the U.K.

Green Idea Factory said...

Hey, let's back up a step! While it is well-known that female automobile operators drive more carefully than the men-folk, I am curious why driver's licenses from many states in the USA are good in the EU.

Everyone knows that "American" driver's training is crap, at least compared to its counterparts in most of the EU, certainly Denmark. There is, for example, no first aid training but a lot of much more technical driving things.

My guess is that multi-national classic auto rental companies - among others - lobby hard to keep these provisions going. The other part of the alternative to them getting this easy business would be more people using public transport, or even cycling.

Of course, various airlines have partnerships with car rental multinationals, but generally not with multi-national public transport operators (e.g. Arriva, which has a large market share in Denmark) or local operators.

So I propose that airlines serving Copenhagen and elsewhere consider doing a promotion targeted at "Americans", e.g. "Your Ticket Stub is your Local Public Transport Ticket". Of course a lot of people coming by plane DO already take local trains and so on, so perhaps offering a free bike would be even better!!

Kiwehtin said...

Well, it seems pretty clear to me it's the driver who damaged the car through her own carelessness, no the cyclist.

A note to those thinking about moving to Canada: with the batch of guttersnipes currently running things at the national level, and in many of the provinces, I'm not sure things are moving in a better direction here. Remember the Bush doctrine of refusing foreign aid for programmes that included conception? Well, today Hilary Clinton had to give a pointed reminder to our Regressive Conservative government that (contrary to its foreign policy objectives) maternal health includes a right to abortion access...

The shame I feel at the current crop is beyond expressing.

Anonymous said...

Americans do need and 'international' driver's license in some EU countries. All it takes to get one is going down to the local AAA office and filling out a form, and maybe having your picture taken, and presto!, you are legal to drive anywhere overseas.

The Blog said...

I know there have been others that have stated this but it needs to be reemphasized. In the US, vehicles making left turns must yield and not enter the intersection until it is safe. AMEX should be ashamed. They know better.

nathan_h said...

There's an old SNL spoof of the Amex commercials that played to Americans' fears of traveling abroad, in which the credit card company would send vigilantes to beat down up any thieving foreigners that picked their pockets, etc. I haven't been able to google up the video but maybe someone else will have greater success. It's certainly apropos!

pedalpusher said...

ugh, ...*face palm*

(Hides Americanism out of embarrassment..)

Neil said...

This isn't an issue of American driving law or culture - as others have pointed out, what this driver did would have put her at fault anywhere in the world, including the US.

The problem is with the litigious society that will attempt to wring money from people just by threatening legal action...even when they have no legal legs to stand on.

I'm not sure about Danish law, but is it possible to file a counterclaim for harassment, pain & suffering, or similar? I'm not a big fan of suing anyone, but when a corporation is trying to make money by sending empty threats, it seems like there needs to be some punishment in order to deter that.

lagatta à montréal said...

Kiwehtin, I certainly agree with you about the tarsands Petrocrats in power in Canada, but I think you mean contraception, not conception!

Andy B from Jersey said...

What's really stupid about the woman driving the car is that she was driving a car!

Typical American windshield perspective on life. Go to one of the most bikable, walkable, transit-friendly countries on earth and the first thing a typical American will do is rent a car!

I would be embarrassed but it doesn't surprise me.

Clyde S. Dale said...

There's a reason those of us Americans who have lived and traveled overseas refer to them as "American Excuse" -- because, really, there IS none for them, they are so...so...I can't say the word, it's too bad.

This particular dilemma sounds like the first German landlord I had while in the military -- there was expectation that we would "settle up" and outstanding monies owed for utilities at the end of the lease. We didn't expect to end up in German civil COURT, but we settled. UNFORTUNATELY, slightly over a year later, the landlord's BUSINESS PARTNER tried to RE-SUE me and several others for the SAME MONEY. The letter my commander sent to that lawyer was not, shall we say, civil. But THAT went away, at least....