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The Time is Now: Predatory Towing – Is There a Fix? Part II

Predatory towing and excessive post-accident invoices are hot topics for many motor carriers in Virginia. This article will serve as a follow-up to Predatory Towing -Is There a Fix?, and will discuss recent efforts in Virginia to attempt to curb “predatory, aggressively overreaching, and illegal” towing practices, while also discussing potential solutions. 

The Virginia Trucking Association (VTA) is working toward a solution to the problems with non-consensual towing in the Commonwealth.  In a recent telephone interview with VTA President Dale Bennett, he expressed his members’ frustration with towing companies who are called out by the State Police and/or VDOT to perform a non-consensual towing and recovery operation, and later present the motor carrier with an outrageously inflated bill. 

For example, a Wisconsin motor carrier was recently presented with a $202,000 removal and towing bill in Bumpass, VA where one of the company’s tractor-trailers was pulled from a ditch. According to Bennett, “[t]hat, unfortunately, is the wild, wild west situation we have here in Virginia.” Predatory towing practices in Virginia are far too common and are a major problem in the motor carrier industry. The VTA is meeting with state legislators and agency officials to advocate for regulation and oversight of the prices these predatory towing companies are charging. 

A deterrence mechanism may be in sight. On June 11, 2020, the Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Advanced Towing for violating state towing and recovery statutes and Arlington County ordinances relative to illegal towing practices. The lawsuit seeks restitution on behalf of consumers, civil penalties (up to $150,000 per violation), attorneys’ fees, and requests that the court enjoin Advanced Towing from further violating Virginia and Arlington County towing code provisions.

The Arlington-based towing company has been in the hot seat following long-time accusations of predatory towing by consumers in Northern Virginia. Like many other predatory towing companies, Advanced Towing uses “spotters” (including children and teenagers) who patrol parking lots and contact Advanced employees when they see vehicles impermissibly parked.

The Complaint alleges Advanced Towing towed vehicles without proper authority, performed unsafe tows, and damaged vehicles as part of the company’s operations. The Complaint also alleges the company illegally towed delivery vehicles (i.e, Door Dash, Uber Eats and Grub Hub), Amazon delivery trucks, and Arlington County Police Department vehicles. 

The matter is scheduled to be heard in October 2021. The lawsuit may serve as a warning and deterrence to predatory towing companies in Virginia, and possibly work to hold other predatory tow companies accountable. 

Virginia Issues Reminder to Insurers Regarding Clean-Up and Recovery 

Once the scene of an accident is cleared and investigated, an issue often arises relative to which party foots the cleanup and recovery expenses.  Is it the at-fault driver, or the motor carrier? The Administrative Letter dated August 19, 2020 addresses this issue by reminding insurers that the at-fault party is responsible for paying reasonable cleanup and recovery expenses. This Administrative Order assists motor carriers by requiring insurance companies to pick up the tab for at least some of the cleanup fees associated with the towing and recovery expenses. The letter states: “The at-fault insurer is responsible for payment of the reasonable costs of clean-up, recovery, and certain towing expenses under the terms of the property damage liability coverage of the motor vehicle policy that requires coverage for “all damages the insured is legally obligated to pay.”

Following an accident, motor carriers should be sure to obtain a copy of the police crash report and to submit a timely claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company. 

The Order helps smaller trucking companies by shifting towing and recovery expenses, and helping with overall retention rates. (It is important to note, however, the administrative letter does not require an insurer to pay for the cost of towing the at-fault vehicle away from the scene of the accident unless that vehicle’s policy includes the relevant physical damage coverage.)

TRIP Program  

There are certain instances when a motor carrier has no choice but to use a third-party towing company. The Virginia Department of Transportation is expanding its Towing and Recovery Incentive Program (TRIP). TRIP offers monetary incentives to towing and recovery companies that quickly clear large commercial vehicle incidents in designated areas. TRIP’s goal is to facilitate improved management of commercial vehicle incidents, standardize towing response, and to promote safe, quick clearance to reduce congestion, crashes, and secondary incidents. The pilot program started in 2017 and partners with VDOT, with one goal in mind: to clear incidents in 90 minutes or less.

TRIP is activated only in specific coverage areas. The TRIP program has been implemented in certain areas in the Richmond District (pre-identified areas include I-295 corridor ▪ I-95 approximately from mile marker 31 to Mile Marker 101.2. Includes northern expansion through Hanover County ▪ I-195 corridor ▪ I-64 approximately from mile marker 148 to 224.7 [New Kent/James City County Line]. Includes western expansion through Goochland County ▪ I-85 from I-95 interchange to approximately mile marker 42 ▪ I-95 from Mile Marker 101.2 to 116.8 [Caroline County]) and will be implemented in the Bristol, Salem, and Staunton districts ( I-81 Corridor) around Memorial Day weekend. Essentially, when a crash occurs in a TRIP area, the motor carrier does not have the option to call its local towing company. TRIP is automatically implemented, and a pre-selected towing and recovery company is dispatched to the scene.

The industry is concerned that VDOT’s TRIP program does not regulate or exercise any oversight of the prices charged by the towing providers it dispatches to the scene of a crash.  One carrier received an invoice for $99,000 for a TRIP tow!  Other carriers have been presented with invoices that start with an initial $10,000 “TRIP fee” before any other charges are calculated.

Although the TRIP program offers promising results, motor carriers believe it has issues that need to be addressed. 

Excessive charges for nonconsensual towing and recovery operations are a major issue in the trucking industry. The VTA is working hard to develop and pass a legislative solution. If you are not a VTA member, do not wait until you are hit with a $200,000 tow bill.  If you operate trucks in and through Virginia, consider joining the VTA in support of their work so you will not have to worry about fighting excessive towing fees alone.  

Stay up to date, consider joining the VTA, and contact your attorney if you are presented with an inflated bill. 

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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