Local snowmobile renter sues customers for damages
summit daily news
BRECKENRIDGE – A dispute over $220 in damage to a snowmobile has escalated to a lawsuit between the owner of a local rental company and a couple from Nebraska.
Scott Wilson, owner of Colorado Backcountry Rentals, is suing Nebraska residents Tom Henne and Tracy Hightower-Henne for the cost of a piece of a snowmobile he says was lost when they damaged one of the machines they rented from him in February of 2010. Wilson is also asking the court to order the couple to pay what could amount to tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ and court fees.
But the Hennes allege the snowmobile piece, a plastic part of the hood that covers the air box, fell off the machine early in their ride, through no fault of their own, and Tom Henne’s signature was later forged on a credit card slip and the card charged without their permission.
Both Frisco police and the district attorney dismissed the forgery accusation, but Wilson said the criminal allegation caused him to bring the civil suit against the Hennes for the damage to the snowmobile, revenue lost while the machine was being repaired and associated lawyers’ and court fees.
The Hennes and their attorneys contend they should not be liable for the charges and claim Wilson often sues his customers unfairly for damages.
Wilson has owned Colorado Backcountry Rentals for seven years and the company has had some 20,000 ATV and snowmobile rentals in that time, Wilson said. The company offers unguided use of the machines at Vail Pass, so employees are not present to witness any damage customers cause to the rentals.
Customers, including the Hennes, sign a waiver acknowledging they are responsible to damages to the machines they rent as well as lost rental revenues while they are being repaired and, if necessary, costs associated with litigation.
Wilson said he has had to charge customers for damages approximately 150 times during his seven years in business, and in 20 or so of those cases he has had trouble collecting the money he says was owed to him.
Wilson’s suit against the Henne’s went to trial Friday in Summit County, but a decision has not yet been delivered.
The burden fell to Wilson’s attorney, Lee Gelman, to prove the Henne’s were liable for the damage to the snowmobile. He pointed to the contracts the Hennes signed and Wilson’s testimony that the machines were checked before each ride for damage.
The Henne’s attorneys tried to poke holes in Gelman’s arguments, saying the snowmobiles could have been damaged before the Henne’s rented them and the contracts the Hennes signed shouldn’t be upheld.
Wilson has been involved in disputes over reimbursement for damages with customers before, including an incident in 2009 when a man from Florida refused to pay $8,000 for damages he caused to a Colorado Backcountry Rentals snowmobile saying Wilson pressured him into signing off on the charges.
Wilson is a chaplain for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and is also involved in the Big Red Bus ministries.
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