Has the tow industry “stolen billions of dollars” from the transportation industry? Has the tow industry killed carriers and other small businesses with big bills? Are lawyers who represent these tow companies “accomplices to crimes?” That is what a new anti-towing group called the “Abusive Tow Authority” (the “ATA”) claims.
Is a tow company an “essential business” and do I have to pay my employees if they don’t report to work? A few weeks ago, these questions were not on anyone’s radar. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the answers to these questions are vital.
When adopting a policy around political discussion, tow companies should distinguish between what an employee can do off the clock versus on the clock. Importantly, an ideal policy should include language that will allow an employer to maintain control over the workplace. Therefore, employers should advise employees that any workplace disruptions, including disruptive political discussions, may be subject to discipline.
The towing and recovery of a tractor-trailer is a complicated situation. It involves expensive equipment and quite often results in a bill of several thousand dollars. Collecting on these types of bills is also complicated and may impact multiple insurance carriers with different types of polices. Sometimes certain policies have coverage whereas others do not.
Many tow companies have municipal towing contracts which can be valuable assets. Depending on the value of the contract, tow companies that possess these contracts are often solicited by other companies who wish to purchase the tow company and its contracts. In recent years, this has been a particularly common strategy here in Kansas City where municipal tow contracts have become extremely competitive and have been awarded to companies of all shapes and sizes.
The tow industry is unique in that much of the “work” (i.e. the towing) is performed in locations far from a tow company’s physical location. This quirk can cause confusion as to which workplace laws apply to tow companies. The most common workplace laws are those promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
In a continued push back against excessive towing charges, there is legislation working its way through the Vermont legislature that puts dramatic caps on “involuntary tows.” The so-called Vermont “Towing Bill of Rights” puts a $40.00 maximum charge on involuntary tows and caps the daily storage rate at $12.00. The impetus behind the legislation is that over “200 people…a year end up losing their cars” due to Vermont Tow companies declaring towed cars abandoned and obtaining titles to the same.
In response to “increased” allegations of overcharging, two (2) separate pieces of legislation have been introduced by Missouri lawmakers to give consumers additional protections against excessive tow bills. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) testified in support of both laws and stated that “there is (presently) no recourse or regulation whatsoever when it comes to nonconsensual towing of commercial motor vehicles in Missouri.”
Fifteen or so years ago, when I first started representing tow companies, it was commonplace in my town for tow companies to require cash for payment. No credit cards were accepted. Tow companies didn’t want to accept credit cards for fear that angry consumers would dispute the charge after picking up their vehicle. Thereafter, the City of Kansas City, Missouri outlawed the “cash only” policy. Instead, tow companies were required to accept credit cards if they wanted to perform municipal tows. Most every tow company in the area objected to the credit card ordinance. A few threatened lawsuits. Despite it all, the ordinance has remained.
I bet at the very end of most every agreement your tow company signs, there is a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo that you don’t feel like reading. This is understandable. Truth be told, when I am hired to read contracts, I don’t particularly enjoy reading the fine print either. But you should.