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.”
Nowadays, towing companies send a lot of e-mails and faxes. I have noticed that many of them contain automatically-inserted confidentiality disclaimers at the bottom of the communication that read something like this: The information transmitted is intended only for the person or entity to which it is addressed and may contain proprietary, business-confidential and/or privileged material. If you are not the intended recipient of this message you are hereby notified that any use, review, retransmission, dissemination, distribution, reproduction or any action taken in reliance upon this message is prohibited.
For as long as you can remember, the city in which your towing company is located has used only one company – not yours – for all of its police-dispatched, nonconsensual tows. Your company is equally qualified to perform police towing work – you have the equipment, experience, insurance, etc. – so you ask the police chief to start using your company on a rotating basis with the current tow company. The chief says that he is satisfied with the service he is getting and denies your request.
Has this ever happened to you? You receive a call from your local police agency to respond to a single vehicle accident. Upon arrival at the scene, you see a 2008 Chevy Cavalier down in a ravine. You can immediately tell that the vehicle is a total loss; salvage worth about $200. The good news is that the vehicle owner, who is still on the scene, informs you that he has full-coverage insurance.
A TowLawyer.com subscriber called me last week about a serious problem with a local municipality. About a year ago, he won the bid contract to provide the city towing services. Recently, however, an insurance company complained about the amount of a tow bill that it had paid for a city-ordered tow. The city recommended that the tow operator refund part of the bill. The tow operator – who felt that his invoice was fair and in compliance with the contract – refused to pay the city’s recommended refund. A few days later, he received a letter from the city manager advising that his towing contract, which still had over two years left on it, was being cancelled in thirty (30) days. That is why he contacted me through the “Talk to a Tow Lawyer” feature on the website.
At TowLawyer.com we receive numerous complaints about towing rotation list rules not being enforced. Most rotation lists are governed by written rules and regulations which set forth guidelines for participation such as equipment specifications, response times, minimum levels of insurance, storage yard requirements, and call dispatching protocols. Typically the rules also contain prohibitions against obtaining multiple spots on the list by using bogus company names, skipping calls without good cause, etc. Suspension or permanent removal is normally called for in the event of a violation.
As a young boy growing up in a towing family in Tennessee, I remember hearing Hank Snow’s baritone voice warbling over the AM radio in the shop: “I’m a-moving on.” Little did I realize then that “I’m Moving On” could be the theme song for many tow truck drivers.
Towing companies that impound vehicles rarely collect their full charges on unclaimed vehicles. Even after deducting the proceeds from the auction sale of the abandoned vehicle, there is usually a large balance, or deficiency, still outstanding for towing, labor and storage fees.
If you perform towing for police departments you have no doubt seen an incomplete police impound inventory. It is not unusual for an investigating officer to miss an item or two when filling out the vehicle tow-in report. But miss a human being?!
In 1995 Congress passed a law, 49 U.S.C. § 14501 (c)(2)(C), giving state and local governments the legal authority to regulate the price charged for ‘‘for-hire motor vehicle transportation by a tow truck, if such transportation is performed without the prior consent or authorization of the owner or operator of the motor vehicle.’’ So-called “nonconsensual” transportation services that are subject to price regulations have been interpreted to include private property tow-aways and police-ordered towing.