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Predatory Towing -Is There a Fix?

According to a survey by The American Trucking Associations, truckers in some states are experiencing a rise in excessive overages for non-consensual or “predatory” tows following the scene of a crash. These predatory practices wreak havoc on motor carries and insurance companies who are responsible for paying these outrageous towing and storage charges. Since there is no federal law on this issue, this area is left open for state regulation; however, many states lack legislation (or have significant shortfalls) to curb these abusive towing practices. 

Generally, a non-consensual tow occurs when an officer calls a tow or wrecker company after an accident to remove a disabled vehicle. Typically, the tow company will arrive at the scene, pull and tow the disabled rig, and will present the motor carrier with an inflated final bill. Many times, the final bill has excessive or miscellaneous fees (i.e., excessive base rates, charges for personnel, unused equipment, and storage fees). Additionally, it is not uncommon for tow companies to charge fees for services not rendered or to even keep the trailer as leverage until the invoice is paid. https://www.ttnews.com/articles/ata-task-force-pursue-predatory-towing-crash-scenes. 

Predatory towing companies also target “illegally parked” rigs as well. For example, in Charlotte, NC, the owner of a Kentucky based trucking company reports that the company had one of its trailer’s “booted” in a Walmart parking lot. The towing company demanded that $3,500 be paid within one hour or the company would increase the towing and recovery charge to $8,000. Another Tennessee based trucking company was hit with an excessive bill after the towing company alleges the rig was parked illegally at a gas station for four hours. The tow truck company subsequently demanded $3,000 to have the boot removed and warned the towing and recovery charge could go as high as $10,000 if not paid within an hour. 

Many trucking companies are seeking protections from these abusive towing practices. However, is there currently an adequate fix? In Virginia at least, the short answer is no.

Although there are some limitations on charges for towing and storage of certain vehicles in Virginia, there are no set rates or caps in many localities. Va. Code § 46.2-1233.1. As a result, predatory towing companies have a leg up over trucking companies when it comes to negotiating these excessive bills. 

While it is true that Va. Code § 46.2-118(11) prohibits tow companies from knowingly charging excessive fees for towing, storage, and administrative services (and prohibits companies from charging fees for services not rendered), the statute does not create a private cause of action for consumers to enforce statute violations. The statute only allows the aggrieved party to “file a complaint with the . . . Office of the Attorney General.” Va. Code § 46.2-119. However, even then, the Attorney General has pure discretion over whether to pursue the cause of action to enjoin the violation. This clearly leaves trucking companies in the dark. Setting rates would certainly work to ensure predictability and to curb predatory practices.

Prevention 

Although there is no “adequate remedy” at law in Virginia, if your rig becomes disabled and you are presented with an excessive towing bill, we recommend the following:

  • Request estimates upfront. 
  • Always have a relationship with and contact information for a local towing company on hand. It is not uncommon for predatory towing companies to frequent high accident areas. Having a relationship with a local company minimizes the risk of an officer dispatching a random tow company after an accident.  
  • In the event you need a tow following a crash, and where applicable, let the officer know you will be dispatching your own tow/wrecker company. 
  • Always have a plan in place to deal with cargo that has the potential of spoiling. 
  • Consider parking alternatives when there are no open truck stops. 
  • Do not pay the inflated bill. Call your attorney immediately. 

For questions or comments, please feel free to contact Cindy S. Foster (cfoster@setlifflaw.com) at 804-377-1275 or Steve Setliff (ssetliff@setlifflaw.com) at 804-377-1261.

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