Murel Laughlin, owner of Laughlin Wrecker Service, in Greeneville, Tennessee, passed away in January 2014. But he left behind an important court ruling about assessing the value of used tow trucks.
Every automobile loan agreement contains a provision allowing for self-help repossession in the event of default. If the borrower does not make the scheduled loan payments on time, a repossession agent is sent to pick up the vehicle. The uniform code on secured transactions provides that a repossession must be accomplished “without breach of the peace.”
Earlier this month I attended a meeting of a state legislative advisory board that was created to study issues in the towing industry. The 11-member board consists of law enforcement officials, state government officials, and members of the state towing association. The board meets twice a year with a stated purpose to make recommendations to the legislature and law enforcement on ways to improve the interaction between the towing industry and those that it serves.
A TowLawyer subscriber called last week about an insurance check he had received as payment for a tractor-trailer roll-over recovery. Before he received the check, he and the insurance company had been engaged in a running dispute about the amount of the invoice. The insurance company sent the towing company a check in the amount that it considered to be reasonable for the recovery services provided. The check was thousands of dollars less than the invoice amount. On the back of the check, at the bottom of the endorsement box, the following words were printed in bold type: “ACCEPTED AS PAYMENT IN FULL.”
Refusal to Return Recovered Stolen Vehicle to Owner Results in Criminal Conviction for Tennessee Tow Operator
Back in 2013, Morristown towing company owner James Morgan unwittingly got involved in a stolen car ring. Morgan, a one-truck operator, received a request to impound several dilapidated vehicles. The person requesting the tows indicated that he had bought the vehicles from their owners. It turned out that, in fact, he had not purchased some of the vehicles. He was using Morgan’s towing service to steal the cars.
At TowLawyer.com we often get calls from subscribers frustrated over the lack of enforcement of laws and regulations that apply to their local towing operations. Nothing is more infuriating that seeing a flagrant violation of a towing ordinance or police department regulation by a competitor that goes unenforced. For example, a local ordinance requires all tow trucks to carry a fire extinguisher and broom but none of your competitor’s trucks have that equipment. Or the police department rotation rules require a 10-foot chain-link fence capped with strands of barbed-wire but your competition only has a rickety 6-foot fence patched up with chicken wire and pieces of tin.
On November 7, 2013, the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP), Chattanooga District, suspended Monteagle Wrecker Service (MWS) from its wrecker rotation list for one (1) year. The THP determined that MWS had violated the THP rotation wrecker rule which prohibits two (2) or more towing companies, owned in whole or in part by the same individual, to participate on the towing list within the same zone. According to the THP, the owner of MWS, Rodney Kilgore, had an ownership interest in two other THP-rotation companies in the same zone. That conclusion was based, in part, on evidence that MWS was processing credit card payments for all three companies. One of the other companies, which was being operated by Rodney Kilgore’s father, William Kilgore, was permanently removed from the THP list on the same day.
On March 27, in the case of Big Wheel Truck Sales v. Safety Insurance Company, Case #16-P- 318, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals held that the removal of a vehicle from the site of a single-vehicle crash, without more, does not constitute a repair, or “remediation,” of the property on which the crash occurred and, therefore, is not payable under a policy of liability insurance issued on the wrecked vehicle.
As a general rule, towing businesses are required by law to pay for the medical treatment and lost wages of employees who suffer work-related injuries, without regard to fault. In order to avoid potentially crippling expenses in that regard, all fifty states require companies with a certain minimum number of employees to purchase workers’ compensation insurance or be adequately self-insured. The minimum number of employees varies from state to state but, typically, the number is between three and ten. Once that threshold number of employees is met, then workers compensation insurance must be obtained by the employer.
No doubt, having a vehicle stolen can be a very unpleasant experience, especially if the owner of the vehicle is uninsured for theft loss. With luck, the stolen vehicle will be found undamaged by a police agency. The vehicle is then towed to the secure impound lot of the police contracted towing company. The uninsured owner is notified. Happy day! The owner hurries to the towing yard to retrieve their vehicle, but — wait — there is a $700 bill for towing and storage fees. The vehicle owner cries, “But I am the victim of the theft! I shouldn’t have to pay.”