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.”
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.
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.
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.