At TowLawyer.com we frequently receive phone calls and e-mails from tow company owners complaining that a police agency refuses to use their business for nonconsensual towing or that they have been denied placement on a police towing rotation list. They tell us they want to sue the sheriff, the police chief or the highway patrol supervisor for “violating their legal rights.”
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.
Some tow companies will do whatever it takes to get on a tow rotation. I’ve seen tow companies come up with all sorts of creative ways to achieve this. What I’ve never seen is the Wall Street Journal covering tow rotations. I’ve also never scene a tow company facing a high profile criminal indictment for tow rotation practices. But this was exactly the case in a February 21, 2018 article captioned “10 New York City Tow-Truck Firms Indicated.”
The good old boy “tow rotation” goes something like this. The law enforcement agency or municipality has a police chief that has been place in for years. During these years, the Chief has used the same tow company for police towing. There is no written rotation. The only policy, so to speak, is the Chief uses his old buddy for towing and if you’re not his buddy, you’re probably not getting the tows.
The very nature of law enforcement towing presents a situation where the law enforcement agency is “hiring” a tow company for a consumer who can’t make the decision themselves because the consumer is incapacitated, incarcerated, injured or maybe even deceased. Simply put, the consumer is vulnerable and, whether they know it or not, is relying on the law enforcement agency to select the best company possible.
Tow companies are often to quick to complain about unjust tow rotation policies. But when the agency retaliates against the complaining tow company for making the complaints, the speech of the tow company may be constitutionally protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Towing is a competitive business. Every revenue source counts. Many tow companies seek to increase their bottom line by serving on tow rotations. Sometimes, “getting on” a tow rotation is easy. Other times, a tow company might struggle. In situations like these, I’ve seen many a tow company pay a hefty penny to a lawyer for an answer to the following question: “The Sheriff/Chief/Captain won’t let me on the rotation. Don’t I have a right to join?” The answer is likely no unless, of course, you have something to “point to.”
Tow rotations present some of the most hotly debated legal subjects in the tow industry. One of the most common issues is a vehicle owner’s right to choose their own tow company in the event of an accident.
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.
The TowLawyer gets this this call at least once a week. Scenario is this: tow company calls TowLawyer and is upset that they are not getting the opportunity to perform tow services for a particular law enforcement or governmental agency. TowLawyer asks the following question: what can you point to that gives you the legal right to perform tow services for that particular law enforcement or governmental agency.